By: Isaac Mathewson
Starring: Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Corey Feldman, Jerry O’Connell
Rob Reiner, the man behind mainstream classics such as This is Spinal Tap, When Harry Met Sally, and A Few Good Men, is one of the most fascinating directors in Hollywood today. Many of his movies have balanced comedy and drama to tell a sometimes funny, other times sad story. One of the movies to achieve this best was a coming-of-age film based off of Stephen King’s novella The Body.
Stand by Me tells the story of four twelve/thirteen year old boys; quiet Gordie Lachance(Wheaton), tough kid Chris Chambers(Phoenix), anger prone Teddy Duchamp(Feldman), and funnyman Vern Tessio(O’Connell), who one late summer’s day in the fictional town of Castle Rock, Oregon, decide to go find the body of the missing boy Ray Brower, after Vern overhears his brother Billy, talking about it. Along the way, they dodge trains, swim in a leech infested pond, and stand up to knife –wielding bullies, led by Ace Merrill, played by Kiefer Sutherland. All the while, they debate how they are going to escape their boring lives and what the future holds in store for them.
Contrary to the title of the book, the whole film is an adventure film, but it is also a character study. It shows the boys who they are and where they came from, through the eyes of the Gordie as an adult, played by Richard Dreyfuss. Gordie is shy and sensitive but at the same time he is very intelligent and is a talented writer. Chris is very mature for his age, but comes from a bad family and that gives others the idea that he turned out bad also. Teddy has been abused by his father, but he still idolizes him and gets angry if someone insults him, such as the scene in the junkyard. Vern is a funny kid, but he is also cowardly, but at the same time he braves danger even when things seem grim. Some of these traits were from people Stephen King knew as a child.
The film is gorgeous to look at. It has beautiful cinematography, showing us the Oregon countryside, and capturing the mood for the film. It also has a good soundtrack composed of classic songs from the 1950’s.
What makes the film stand out, however, are the performances. All of the actors are very real and show great wisdom and talent beyond their years, partially because their teacher was Rob Reiner himself, who is an accomplished actor.
The best of the four, and the most tragic, is River Phoenix. He showed great depth and emotion in his performance and he seemed the most believable out of the four. The famous scene when he tells Gordie around the campfire about how he stole milk money is incredibly powerful and he often seems like a father figure to the others over the course of the film. This film made him a star and the end unintentionally foreshadows his ultimate fate.
Although it is a film with kids, this is not intended for younger viewers. It is rated R for language and thematic elements. However, people who are at least in junior high can take it, and the movie is appropriate besides that. Even so, this film is incredibly powerful and many, including myself, consider it to be one of the greatest coming-of-age films of all time. I have seen it many times, and I hope to see it many times more.