Stand by Me (1986) (R)

It's ironic that "Stand by Me" should be the film that I see right after watching "The 400 Blows". Both deal with adolescence from the point of view of an adult—in the first case it was Truffaut and in this case it is Stephen King.
I think it's very easy to pick out King's influence when you're watching the movie, I don't this it's easy to notice Rob Reiner's directing hand. This man can do anything.
Poorly titled and sentimental to a hideous fault, "Stand by Me" tries its very best to pull out every cinematic manipulative trick to make the viewer care for the rag-tag group of aspiring young psychopaths.
"You guys wanna go see a dead body?"
The line that should have begun the movie is brought to us after many minutes of pointless voice-over narration and a man sitting in his car breathing deeply.
Told in flashback form, "Stand by Me" has nothing original, or even slightly original about it. Though it boosted two of its four stars' career, it really has done nothing else for film except fuel the jokes on many episodes of "Family Guy".
The movie is looked at through the adult eyes of Gordie Lachance (Richard Dreyfuss as the elder and Wil Wheaton as the younger). Gordie recalls the first time he ever saw a dead human being, this is the story we are being told.
The opening lines of the movie let us know what happens. Gordie sees a dead body. Whoops, SPOILER! Seriously, people...
Gordie has three friends, Chris, Teddy, and Vern. Each of them have their little quirks. Chris is raised by an abusive father who beats him on nearly every opportunity...sometimes just because. Teddy is raised by a crazy father who fought in WWII, his father is abusive too, having almost burnt Teddy's ear off completely on a stove. Vern is just fat.
Gordie is brought up in a house with two unloving parents and an older brother who is recently deceased. As such, the flashbacks are shot in soft, yellow light—mimicking the angelic amazing-ness of the dead brother (played by John Cusack)—and they involve the movie's worst offenses in sappy scoring. Gordie now had to learn to live in the immense shadow of his brother's death. His parents don't care for him anymore. He says in the movie that the last time his father touched him was when he was three years old and it was only because he ate bleach.
Vern, who probably was abused by his father too, hears news of a missing kid's body up the road twenty miles. His older brother, part of a gang called the Cobras (headed by a blond-haired Kiefer Sutherland) and his friend stumbled across the body, but were too scared to do anything about it.
Deciding that if they find the body, they'll be heroes and get their picture in the paper, the four friends pack up sleeping bags and hike along the railroad track to the dead body.
We are told, numerous times just in case we forgot by older Gordie, that they all really want to see the body—we're never told why. It would seem, by the film's conclusion, that the sight of the corpse is enough to propel Gordie into adulthood; but that much is ridiculous. Already suffering from the death of his older brother, perhaps it's the need to have an emotional release that compels Gordie to see the boy...but I doubt that too.
Chris (River Phoenix) is the toughest of the kids, the most abused, and the smartest. He brings a gun with them, you can practically see King's hands writing as you watch the movie.
The four have many adventures along the way, most of them involving trains and memories of their parents.
King likes to pick on the small towns, perhaps they're more evil...he also likes to write about writers. There's a "Big Fish" quality to a scene in which Gordie tells his three companions a story. Chris thinks Gordie should be a writer because he tells such good stories; but when the tale is finished we all wonder what Chris sees in him.
Trying to establish the quirks of a small town which appears to be in the south or mid-west, King has gangs and children talking like no one I know. It also tries to establish a time period and it does that rather seamlessly.
"Stand by Me" makes a whole lot of no sense. Why is it called "Stand by Me"? Why does everyone besides Gordie want to see the body? Why do they think they'll become famous?
Still, the movie is very famous and Reiner's name became even bigger because of it.
"Stand by Me" isn't a bad movie, it's just not a good one.

Score: ★★½

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