My Favorite Movies – Stand by Me (1986)

15 Apr

By Tanner Smith

Many different times on this blog, I’ve tried ranking my favorite movies. Well, now I’m going to do something different–I’m going to create individual posts for some of my top 300-400 favorite movies (just because I love movies so much).

And even I’m not necessarily ranking anymore, I still have to level with you…this movie is in my top 5!

Complete and total honesty–I LOVE this movie! Just had to throw that out there. “Stand by Me” has been THE movie that I’ve grown up with and I will always love it until the day I die. Based on the Stephen King novella “The Body” (part of King’s “Different Seasons” collection of four stories), “Stand by Me” centers around a group of four 12-year-old boys, each dealing with their own problems, going on a trek to search for a missing dead body. They go on many misadventures along the journey (which obviously appealed to 9-year-old Tanner the most), but they’re not what the film is about (which grown-up Tanner would come to learn).

Each of the boys has their own personal issue to get through–our main kid Gordie (Wil Wheaton) is coping with the loss of his older brother and the possibility that his parents believe the wrong son died; Chris (River Phoenix) is looked down upon by others due to his family’s bad reputation; Teddy (Corey Feldman) still suffers emotional (and physical) scars from his abusive father; and Vern (Jerry O’Connell) is a feeble scaredy-cat. All four of these juvenile main characters are well-developed, but what truly makes them stand out is the excellent acting from each of the young actors playing them. Corey Feldman as Teddy can be very funny and obnoxious, but he also shows he can be highly vulnerable too. My favorite is the late River Phoenix as Chris–playing arguably the most complex character in the bunch, Phoenix presents the kind of friend you’d want to have at that age: the friend who will listen to you and be there for you because no one else will. It makes his most emotional scene, in which he breaks down to Gordie about when he was wronged by a schoolteacher because it was her word against his, all the more special because we want to be there for him in return. He’d be there for us too.

Also, there are plenty of memorable lines in this movie, but here’s one that stuck out to me the most–it’s when Chris encourages Gordie’s writing: “It’s like God gave you something, man. All those stories that you can make up. And He said, ‘This is what we got for you, kid. Try not to lose it.’ But kids lose everything unless there’s something there to look out for them…and if your parents are too f***ed up to do it, then maybe I should!”

“Stand by Me” has plenty of jokes and adventures and entertainment value, whether it’s the kids braving a train trestle or just shooting the breeze around a campfire, but what makes it one of my absolute favorite movies even to this day are the genuine human moments that deliver tough life lessons and develop the friendship of these kids who need each other at this point in their lives.

This is my example of a perfect “dramedy” (comedy-drama)–it’s a film that shows when times are tough, it helps to have good people to share laughs and positivity with. And it balances the comedy and the drama brilliantly.

“Stand by Me” was a sleeper hit in 1986. In a summer when everyone was talking about big-budget monster movies like “Aliens” and “The Fly,” here was a quiet, gentle coming-of-age film about four boys growing up and relating to each other over the course of two days. The word-of-mouth was apparently so wide that it became one of the bigger surprise hits of the year.

It’s amazing to look up vintage 1986 reviews of the film and interviews with director Rob Reiner about making the film–it’s almost like they knew then that the film would still be as highly regarded 35 years later. And Stephen King himself was impressed by the film–after a private early screening of the film, he excused himself for a while…and then when he came back, he told Reiner personally, “That’s the best film ever made out of anything I’ve written, which isn’t saying much. But you’ve really captured my story. It is autobiographical.” (Also, upon reading about what it was like for Reiner to make the film, as he constantly felt he was in his father Carl Reiner’s shadow and wanted to break away from that, it must have been so great to have one of the best all-time authors say that to him.)

Oh, and I also found an old Chicago Tribune review of the film by Gene Siskel (THANK GOD, because I still can’t find any evidence of a review from Roger Ebert!!)–he rated it 3 1/2 stars out of 4 and even praised the campfire-story scene involving the pie-eating contest that results in…you probably know what I’m talking about. It was a relief that he found that scene hilarious–I thought he would’ve seen it as a weak spot!

That scene is indeed hilarious–and so are the moments of small-talk between the boys that’s worthy of “Seinfeld,” such as, “You think Mighty Mouse could beat up Superman?”

My favorite scene has always been the scene at the trestle, where the boys are in danger of being run down by a freight train if they don’t make it to the other side in time. The buildup is great (especially when Vern is taking too long crawling across the planks), Wil Wheaton’s scream upon noticing the oncoming train is priceless, and the resulting chase makes for overall an exciting, funny, suspenseful scene. (“Hey…at least now we know when the next train was due!”)

The screenplay by Raynold Gideon & Bruce A. Evans) was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay (losing to “A Room With a View”)…but it got more recognition from the Film Independent Spirit Awards, garnering nods for Best Screenplay, Best Director, AND Best Film (all of which lost to Oliver Stone and “Platoon”…OK, fair enough)!

Yet another reason for me to appreciate the Indie Spirits more than the Oscars…this won’t be the only time I make comparisons in this new series.

“Stand by Me” is a movie that means so much to me that I can’t help but be thankful that I live in a world in which it exists. It’s a hell of an unforgettable adventure. I’ve seen it about a million times already, and I’ll definitely see it a million times more.

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