IMDB #163 Stand By Me

Today's countdown entry, 1986's Stand By Me, is yet another of the many classic 80s films that I missed while I was watching Flight Of The Navigator over and over and over.

From the pop consciousness at large I've gathered that's it's some sort of coming of age tale involving a corpse, a train, and the 50s. And presumably standing near one another, literally or figuratively. Let's see what I missed!

The Key Players:

Rob Reiner makes his second appearance on the countdown as director, working from a short story by the much-adapted Stephen King.

Our story follows a quartet of child stars, each of whom would go on to varying degrees of adult sucess: Wil Wheaton went from the most annoying character on "Star Trek: The Next Generation" to one of the more beloved people on the internet, somehow. Corey Feldman was ubiqitous during the 80s and early 90s, then laid low until nostalgia kicked in. Jerry O'Connell has been in over sixty episodes apiece of three different television series- can you name the two that aren't "Sliders"? And River Phoenix was poised for not only success but respectability (My Own Private Idaho) before OD-ing in 1993.

Jack Bauer Kiefer Sutherland has a supporting role, while Richard Dreyfuss acts as narrator.

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The Story:

Four twelve year old best buds go on a quest to find a dead body in 1959. That's pretty much it. There's our narrator Gordie (Wheaton) who wants to be a writer and is definitely not just Stephen King when he was twelve at all, tough kid Chris (Phoenix), budding psychopath Teddy (Feldman), and butt-of-every-joke Vern (O'Connell). The former three deal with various father-issues throughout the story, while Vern is mostly just a goofball.

Racing the kids to the body is stereotypical older bully Kiefer Sutherland and his posse- everyone seems to imagine that finding the corpse of a kid who got hit by a train will bring them untold glory.

The Artistry:

I dunno. There isn't much I took away from Stand By Me- nothing about it was visually arresting, the child-acting was competent at best, and the story generally ham-fisted in a very Stepehn Kingish, telling-not-showing (with extra telling viz voiceover) kind of way.

40 years from now, will our era be signified solely by top 40 radio hits? The use of Buddy Holly's "Everyday" and The Chordettes' "Lollipop" felt kind of cliche to me, but that's probably not fair- there were fewer radio stations back then, I suppose. But the constant soundtrack selections seemed to do nothing more than yell "IT'S THE FIFTIES! 1959 IN YOUR FACE!" to me. Though the boys singing the theme to "Have Gun Will Travel" was a subtler touch, and I liked the low-key rendering of the titular Ben E. King song as a score motif.

The pie-eating contest (a story of Gordie's we see visualized) is a colorful, if disgusting, digression, but the only scene that stood out to me was the ambling campfire discussion- it seemed like things twleve-year-olds would actually say, and was funny to boot ("Wagon Train's a really cool show, but did you notice they never get anywhere? They just keep wagon training.")

And finally we come to one of my least favorite things: the Unecessary Framing Device. Let's discuss this behind the spoiler wall.


So three of the kids cry about their respective fathers (Vern remains a goofball), then they find the body (deciding wisely to make an anonymous tip instead of glory-hounding), face down the bully, and part ways back in town.

How nice. But through voice-over, Future Gordie (Dreyfus) tells us what became of Vern, Teddy, and Chris- the chief fact being that Chris overcame the odds, became a lawyer, then got stabbed trying to break up a fight at a restaurant.

Gordie has become a successful novelist, after he was lucky enough to have his first book made into a film (which was probably Carrie but with a totally different spelling).

I don't know- it feels manipulative to me. Remember this character you cared about? He died senselessly! You're all a bunch of saps! I know this is basically Stephen King's memoir (and in fact all three of the friends in the novella "The Body" die in young adulthood), but the mechanics of the revelation bug me. What do we gain by seeing Dreyfus looking somber at the beginning and end?

Other than, of course, the eye-rolling last lines of his memoir: "I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anyone?"


Overall: Should It Be Higher, Lower?

Maybe I'm supposed to be twelve when I see it? Lower. To be clear, that just means that I don't find it countdown-worthy, not that it's terrible. Rob Reiner was still some years away from showing us what 'terrible' means.

The Legacy:

The cloying screenplay got an Oscar nomination despite being clearly the weakest part of the film, and there's the career-launching covered above. It also led to the founding of Castle Rock Entertainment, named for the fictional Oregon setting.

The Best Video Of It On YouTube:

"The kind of talk that seemed important until you discover girls."

Leftover Thoughts:

-Now I can finally check this off of the "Popular Corey Feldman Movies I Never Saw For One Reason Or Another" List, along with Goonies, which I finally saw last year (meh). Next up, The Lost Boys.

-"Mighty Mouse is a cartoon. Superman is a real guy. There's no way a cartoon can beat up a real guy."

-My favorite part about Stand By Me in general might be the Pez line as the poster tag. That's pretty great.

Coming Up...

162. The Terminator

161. Amores Perros

160. Finding Nemo

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