Stand by Me: Review

Stand by Me: Review

When dramas about teenagers feel ambitious, they start to call themselves “coming-of-age films”. Ninety percent of all movies that claim to document some sort of fundamental transformation or existential rite of passage are nothing but tissue fodder masquerading as philosophy. Of course, this is not to say that faux coming-of-age movies are inherently bad. Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower (based on his own novel) is a wonderful film about overcoming the obstacles of young life and discovering what it means to have perspective. It does so, however, through a single flash of understanding, an epiphany. In other words, movies like Wallflower not so much document the “coming of age” as they do the moment when the clock strikes midnight before your birthday. Moments are easy, ephemeral and sappy. Processes are not.

Stand by Me, one of actor-turned-director Rob Reiner’s early films, is a rare exemplification of the process. It may well be one of the best films of about boys ever made.

The film details the exploits of a middle school group of friends—shy but precocious Gordie, wise-beyond-his-years group leader Chris, eccentric and soldier-wannabe Teddy and the “fat one”, Vern. The four friends embark on a hike to find the body of a missing boy, wishing to claim credit for the discovery. Their journey takes them away from the archetypal 1950s small town into the countryside and the wilderness where the boys are confronted by thick jungle, leeches and a junkyard dog. To the unsuspecting, Stand by Me seems like a run-of-the-mill teenage adventure complete with a band of somewhat reckless boys braving the wilderness and returning home safely. Upon seeing the movie, however, it becomes clear that the adventure in the film is not the physical trek at all.

Each boy in the group is deeply troubled in his own, real way and the four friends come together in an organic blossoming of camaraderie that successfully blurs the literal plot in lieu of a more meaningful story. Stand by Me is an expedition of the soul and over the days, the four characters grow drastically in such subtle fashion that you can’t even pinpoint where the supposed transformation took place. All you know is that, when Gordie and friends find the body of poor Ray Brower and place an anonymous call (forsaking any reward), the conclusion is natural and far from pedantic. Stand by Me is a coming-of-age film because you cannot truly describe how the boys have changed, only that they have.

That the film is rated “R” is truly a shame—every teenaged boy age twelve and up should see Stand by Me and I shake my head at all of the “underaged” viewers who were turned away from the theatre back in the movie’s 1986 first run. The restrictive rating was based wholly on language, which in my opinion is ludicrous (PG-13 would have been more appropriate). Stand by Me manages to paint a true portrait of the boyhood condition—untainted by the politics of high school and magnified by simpler times. Boasting one of the most talented young ensemble casts I have ever seen, this film is undoubtedly a young adult classic, encapsulating the notion of an entire generation for posterity.