Teddy, Vern, Gordie, and Chris decide to search for the dead body of a missing boy.
Stand By Me is the story of four twelve year olds living in a small town in the year 1959, whose lives were changed by a chance adventure that they embarked on at the end of an indolent summer. The four boys were Gordie Lachance (Wil Wheaton), Chris Chambers (River Phoenix), Teddy Duchamp (Corey Feldman) , and Vern Tessio (Jerry O’Connell). The boys had their own tree house with its special club rules, including a secret knock, and spent their time in meaningless arguments, playing games, or just hanging out. Although on the surface they are typical pre-adolescent boys, you soon find out that underneath their normal bravado and enthusiasm, each of them have problems at home to deal with. Gordie’s older brother Denny (John Cusack in one of his first film appearances) was recently killed in an auto accident, and his parents have not handled it well. They mope around their house and continually ask Gordie (who is an aspiring writer) why he isn’t more like his brother, who was a popular athlete in town. Gordie’s best friend, Chris, who is intelligent, brave, and the natural leader of the group, has an alcoholic father, who constantly beats him, and an older brother who is a delinquent. Everyone in town figures that Chris will follow in their footsteps, so he is very much afraid of what his future will be. Teddy is the son of an emotionally disturbed war veteran who has abused him all his life. In his mind Teddy cannot accept his situation, so he has created a fantasy world in which his father is an All American war hero instead of an inmate in a mental hospital. Vern is on the chubby side, somewhat uncoordinated, and is constantly the butt of jokes. Vern’s older brother likes to push him around when he is there, and so Vern spends a fair amount of time hiding out. Yet Vern ends up being the catalyst of the story. He accidentally overhears his older brother describe the location where he is pretty sure that the dead body of a missing boy from the town that everyone had been looking for actually lies. This gives him a chance to be important in the pecking order of the club, and he brings this information to the other boys.
Gordie and Chris escape from the junkyard owner and his dog.
Intrigued by the thought of seeing a real dead body and excited at the prospect of becoming heroes in the town for finding it, the boys decide to walk the twenty miles, which will take them two days to complete. They each tell their parents that they are spending the night at their friends house, but given their home situations, it’s not really a problem for them to take off. The journey starts off well enough, peppered with the bickering chatter typical of twelve year olds, but soon they realize how unprepared they are. No one remembered to bring along any food and they have very little money. This leads to their first adventure along the way as Gordie is elected to buy food at a store, but must sneak through the junkyard to do so. They end up being discovered by the junkyard owner who sics his dog on them for trespassing on his property. Later they out-run a train on a bridge, tell stories by the campfire, and have a traumatic experience with leeches when they take a shortcut through a swamp. Meanwhile, Ace Merrill (Keifer Sutherland) leader of an older gang of town kids finds out about the location of the body from Vern’s older brother and decides to go find the body also, for basically the same reasons. The story comes to its climax point as the two groups square off at the site of the dead body.
Chris and Gordie share their innermost feelings.
While Stand By Me seems to be another “coming of age” film, its meaning and interest really exists on two levels. The entire story is told in a series of flashbacks, narrated by the adult Gordie (Richard Dreyfuss) who is now a successful writer, and is lamenting a news clipping about the death of his childhood buddy Chris, who had succeeded in overcoming his self doubts and dysfunctional family situation to become a lawyer. Chris was killed because of the way he had lived, bravely intervening during an altercation in a restaurant, and suffering a knife wound for his efforts. You enter the mind of the writer throughout this film, in the way that the story is told, how the flashbacks move around in time when necessary, and especially in the hilarious “story within a story” told by Gordie at the campfire about “Lardass” Hogan (Andy Lindberg) and the pie eating contest. While the boys characters are quite believable, well acted, and superbly cast, the cathartic revelations of the boys’ innermost feelings, fears, and self-doubts almost “on cue” show the sure hand of writer Stephen King more than a sense of total reality. The decision to rate this film R is a mystery — it should be PG-13: there is no violence or sex in it (save a minor fight between Chris and Ace); the foul language in it definitely pales in comparison to a 90s film like Good Will Hunting (although there is a lot of it). Maybe it received its R for the realistic way in which it portrays the cruelty of humans to others, especially among children or for its anal humor. Yet at the same time it movingly shows all of the good traits of friendship — loyalty, acceptance, camaraderie, and the courage to stand by each other in the face of adversity.
The foursome returns home changed by their experiences.
The talent of River Phoenix is especially noteworthy in his performance of Chris, causing you reflect on the tragedy of his early death, and Wil Wheaton shows a lot more depth than you would expect if you have only seen him in his Star Trek role of Ensign Wesley Crusher. Rob Reiner’s direction keeps things moving forward and gets realistic ensemble work out of the cast. The musical score prepared by Jack Nitzsche gives you a great medley of fifties hits, and in fact the name of the film was changed from The Body to Stand By Me because of the impact that the classic Ben E. King song provides in the sound track.
Vern and Gordie run for their lives on the train trestle.
There isn’t a lot of good chucks photography in this film. Gordie wears well worn white high tops, a member of Ace’s gang is wearing black low cuts and “Lardass” Hogan in the pie eating contest story wears black high tops. The perfect character for black high top chucks, Chris, is wearing black Keds, which was part of the original novella story line. Too bad, because River Phoenix liked wearing chucks, and was seen wearing them often during his brief life and in many other films. However, given the dysfunctional family life of his character in the film, Chris, it wouldn’t be realistic to expect him to have a pair until he had money of his own. In the fifties it was often a big deal for a kid to own a pair of Chuck Taylors, due to their high price of $8.95! The best scene is probably when Wil and Vern are trying to get away from the on-coming train, and you see a closeup of them running on the train trestle.
This chucks guy (Lardass) specializes in up-chucks.
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