Cast: River Phoenix, Corey Feldman, Wil Wheaton, Richard Dreyfuss, Kiefer Sutherland
Running Time: 1hr 29min
A group of friends from a small town in Oregon go on a hike to find the dead body of a missing kid from their school. That is the basic premise for this coming of age drama, directed by Rob Reiner. We open on author Gordie Lachance reading a newspaper article about attorney Chris Chambers being stabbed in a restaurant. Gordie then narrates a flashback to his youth where he and three friends, Chris, Vern, and Teddy hang out in the town of Castle Rock, Oregon.
Gordie is shy and introverted and must deal with emotionally distant parents following the death of his star athlete older brother. Chris is tarred with the delinquent brush as his parents are criminals and alcoholics. Teddy is a physically and emotionally scarred, but an eccentric young boy whose father is in an asylum seeker, while Vern is timid, overweight, and lacks nurture from his parents. One day Vern overhears his brother and a friend discussing missing kid Ray Brower, which Vern relays to the group, and they decide to try to find Ray.
Over Labor Day weekend the boys make their excuses, stock up on supplies, and leave in search of Ray. After a few mishaps and some adventures along the way, the boys finally find the body. But local criminal Ace and his gang (including Vern’s brother) show up and try to claim it themselves. Chris protests and Ace draws a knife, threatening him. Gordie pulls out his father’s pistol he brought with him and tells the gang to leave, which they reluctantly do. The boys anonymously report the body before bidding farewell until junior high a few days later.
Cutting back to the present Gordie narrates how he and Chris remained friends, but they drifted apart from the other two. He describes what each of them is doing with their lives now, and how Chris went to college and became a lawyer before he was stabbed at a fast food joint trying to break up a fight. Gordie looks fondly on his childhood years, and wonders if they were the best years of his life before he leaves to takes his son (and friend) swimming.
All of us were kids once, and we all had a tight-knit group of friends we hung out with. When we were young summers seemed to last forever, and we found fun in adventure and the outdoors. The bonds of friendship were as strong as ever, and we grew with one another, learning about life, love, and loss, alongside our friends. Then, as we grow up and get older, we drift apart, and we may not see those people anymore, but we still look fondly on the times we had together. This is the essence of the movie Stand By Me.
Based on the novella The Body by Stephen King, Stand By Me has gone on to become a cult classic. King is the master of small-town coming-of-age tales, and this is another about four boys learning about life as they journey together. There are so many elements to the film, and it is peppered with just the right amount of humor, drama, and pathos. Some might accuse the film of being overly sentimental, and a little cliched, and they aren’t entirely wrong – but that’s not necessarily a bad thing!
The spirit and theme of death looms large in the movie – Gordie’s brother has recently died, and the kids are off to see a dead body – but, the film is clear on one point, nothing hits as hard as life. The movie is a poignant and touching look at adolescence, and the way life can sometimes pan out in a small town. Confronting the ugliness of maturity head-on, this is a movie that deserves to be experienced again and again.