Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Prime of Their Youth

Stand By Me
Director: Rob Reiner
Cast: Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Corey Feldman, Jerry O'Connell, Kiefer Sutherland, Richard Dreyfuss, John Cusack
Released: August 22, 1986

Oscar nominations:
Best Adapted Screenplay - Raynold Gideon and Bruce A. Evans (lost to Ruth Prawer Jhabvala for A Room With a View)

I was six going on seven the first time I saw an R rated movie. Haha, see what I did there? Yes, Stand By Me was the first R rated movie that I ever saw. I know for a fact that I must have been six or seven when I first saw this because I remember seeing it on video in the basement of the first house I lived in. We didn't move into the second house I lived in until just before my eighth birthday and the movie had to be released on video when I was six. The only thing I remember from my first viewing was that the body of the dead kid really freaked me out, especially since his eyes were open. I think I was around 10 or 11 when I actually remember seeing this movie in its entirety and appreciated it more. I was kind of raised to love this movie because my mom loooooves it (her favorite scene is the "Train!" scene). It's set in 1959 and the characters would have been only a couple years older than her at that time. I'm sure other people of her generation love it too as it encapsulates a certain time period with the setting and music. This movie had to be marketed to the Baby Boomer generation, right? Preteen kids, as much as I'm sure they wanted to see this, wouldn't be allowed (I've never seen four young boys curse so much until South Park came along!)

This movie is based on a short story by Stephen King called "The Body" which I read about 15 years ago. I've only read it once and I don't remember much about it...I know they made a few changes to the movie. Obviously, the novella is set in Maine, as all King stories are, but they changed it to Oregon in the movie. I believe both still have the same small town name of Castle Rock. And I don't remember this, but I guess Chris was the main character of the novella. Being that I've seen the movie at least 30 times, you can probably guess which one I like better. I also think the movie has the better title. I would like to revisit the short story...I just need to locate the book! 

Stand By Me is the quintessential coming-of-age movie and one of the most beloved. It is in my top five favorite movies of all time and I have recommended it in the past to people who had never seen it and they watched it and loved it, naturally! If, for some reason, you have never seen this (blasphemy!!), I highly recommend it. Plus, you should see it before you read this because there will be spoilers. It is about four twelve-year-old boys who embark on a journey the weekend before they start junior high to find the dead body of a kid who was hit by a train named Ray Brower who was their age. ("You guys wanna see a dead body?") They follow the train tracks that will lead them to the area where the body is and along the way they encounter a "vicious" dog named Chopper and his even more vile owner, tell stories around a campfire, have the ultimate train dodge, fall into a lake with leeches (ugh!!!), and philosophize things such as what kind of animal Goofy is suppose to be. It is these four twelve-year-olds going on the ultimate adventure one last time before they drift apart as friends and it is their journey of self-discovering and realizing who they are.

Gordie Lachance (Wil Wheaton), is the main character who is narrating the story to the audience in the "present day" as a forty-year-old (Richard Dreyfus). He loves telling stories and wants to be a writer (as we see he does become later on). His older brother, Denny (John Cusack) died in a car accident four months earlier and his parents are overcome with grief and barely acknowledge Gordie's presence anymore. Gordie and Denny had a very close relationship even though you would think Gordie might resent him with Denny being the Golden Boy son what with him being a star football player. In a flashback, when Denny tells his parents they should read Gordie's new story, his mother seems interested for a second, but then his father turns the subject back to Denny and his football. Gordie has a brutal dream where he's at Denny's funeral and his dad tells him, "It should have been you." He has lots of doubts if his parents, especially his father, really loves him.

Out of the three other boys, Gordie's closest friend is Chris Chambers (River Phoenix) who is the heart of the movie and the unofficial leader of their little gang. Chris is the one to encourage Gordie to continue on with his writing when Gordie thinks it's a waste of time and tells Gordie he can't be held back by him and the other guys who aren't as smart as he is. Narrator Gordie informs the audience that Chris came from a "bad family", but all we know about that is his father drinks and can get on a "mean streak" and he has an older brother who hangs out with a bad crowd. Gordie's dad doesn't like Chris and calls him a thief because he stole the milk money at school, but Chris confesses to Gordie that even though he did steal the money, he did feel bad and gave it back, only to find that he was still accused of stealing it and the very next day the teacher he gave the money back to had a new skirt. It's a very heartbreaking scene when he's telling this to Gordie and starts to break down and can't understand how a teacher could do something like that to him. Because of his reputation, he tells Gordie, "I just wish I could go someplace where nobody knows me." I can totally see why the preteen and teen girls of the '80s loved River Phoenix. He was very swoon-worthy! This was his only movie I saw of his when he was alive, but I saw quite a few of them about eight years after his death and I think this one by far is is best and most iconic.

Teddy DuChamp (Corey Feldman) is a bit of a psychopath (just a bit!) and is predicted by Chris to not live past 20 (though when adult Gordie is telling the audience what became of his friends, he is still alive). Even though he has a father who beats him and once held his head against a stove and burned his ear, he still loves him. When they come across the vile man who owns a junk yard they trespass into and calls Teddy's father a looney, this angers Teddy immensely and he defends his father, saying he isn't a looney and that he stormed the beach at Normandy. It's no wonder Chris thinks he won't live very long because Teddy seems to have a death wish. He tried to dodge a train ("Train dodge. Dig it.") and we hear about a story where Teddy almost fell out of a tree, but Chris caught him in time. Teddy has the strangest laugh and loves to speak in military lingo. He has one of my favorite lines in the movie when he tells Vern, "Is it me, or are you the world's biggest p***y?"

The junk yard scene also involves a dog named Chopper who is the "most feared and least scene dog in Castle Rock". When I wrote my review for The Sandlot, I mentioned how that movie reminded me of Stand By Me and they had to have inspiration for the "mean and vicious" dog who lives in a junkyard from this film, right?? And just like in The Sandlot where the dog isn't as mean as they had perceived, Chopper is just a golden retriever who isn't as menacing as he is made out to be.

My favorite character is Vern Tessio (Jerry O'Connell). I. FREAKING. LOVE. VERN!!! I love all the characters and think they're all great, don't get me wrong, but if I had to pick a favorite, it would be Vern. Vern is HILARIOUS! I laugh every time he's on screen. He's the chubby naive kid of the group who gets picked on by the other kids, especially Teddy. Poor Vern! But without Vern, they would never have their adventure because he's the one who tells them about the dead kid. He's under the porch searching for his jar of pennies (his mom threw away the map he made to locate think he would remember the general vicinity where he buried them, but this IS Vern we're talking about!) when he hears his older brother and his brother's friend talking about how they saw this missing kid, dead in the woods. His brother thinks they should tell the police, but the friend says they'll get in trouble since they "boosted" a car and they'll want to know how they got all the way out there. The kids decide they're going to follow the train tracks that will lead them out there to find the body themselves. They are excited about the prospect of getting their pictures in the paper and maybe being on TV if they find the kid's body.

Haha, here is one of my (many!) favorite scenes with Vern:

Vern is so obsessed with that comb! Later, when they're well into their journey, he asks if anyone brought any food and when nobody remembered to, he says, "What are you looking at me for!? I brought the comb!" And then when they all give their money to Gordie to buy provisions, he only has seven cents! Oh, Vern! ("Sorry Vern, a more experienced shopper could have gotten more from your seven cents.") And when they're crossing the bridge and Vern is crawling on his knees (so funny!) and the comb falls out of his shirt pocket and into the water below and he just looks so dejected and tells Gordie, who's behind him, "I lost the comb."("Forget it, Vern.") In that clip at the end you see Teddy punching his arm and giving him "two for flinching". This will happen again to Vern, but he finally gets to be the one to make Teddy flinch and he is so elated and is gloating that he was finally the one to make Teddy flinch, that in his excitement, Teddy punches him and Vern says, " flinched!" and Teddy just smiles at him and says, "I know...two for flinching!" Oh, Vern, you adorable idiot!

Another one of my favorite Vern scenes happens when they've set up camp for the night and Gordie is about to tell them his story about the sabotaged pie eating contest (that always grossed me out so much when I was a younger, but I can handle it a little bit better now!) and tells them the main character is a kid named Davey Hogan and Vern interrupts and says, "Like Charlie Hogan's brother! If he had one." Then he interrupts Gordie once again after he says the main character of his story, nicknamed Lardass, is a really fat kid because of his glands and Vern says his cousin has something like that and is about to tell a story of his own until Chris tells him to shut up. Then once Gordie has finished the story, Vern says, "I like the story! But there's just one thing I don't understand...did Lardass have to pay to get into the contest?" The looks on the other boys' faces just cracks me up and Gordie tells him, "No, Vern, they just let him in" and Vern is like, "Ohhhh! Great story!"

While the boys are following the train tracks, the film cuts back from time to time to the older high school boys, which include Chris's brother, Eyeball; Vern's brother, Billy; and Billy's friend Charlie (that must be the Charlie Hogan who doesn't have a brother named Davey!) among others. The leader of their gang is Ace (Kiefer Sutherland). Both Billy and Charlie, who said they were not going to tell anybody about the dead kid, blab to Eyeball and Ace about him and Ace decides they're all going to drive out to find the kid and hopefully get a cash reward for discovering the body. Ace and his gang like to do things like play "mailbox baseball", get tattoos with razors, and torment the younger kids. Ace steals Gordie's hat at the beginning of the movie, the one that Denny gave to him before he died and threatens to burn Chris's eye with a lit cigarette. He's a real a**hole, that Ace! They reach the dead kid just minutes after the four younger boys have found him. It makes me laugh when Ace mocks Chris after Chris tells them, "We found him first! We got dibs!" and Ace turns to Chris's brother and says, "We better start running, Eyeball. They got dibs!"

The four twelve-year-olds stand their ground until Ace takes out his knife and threatens to kill Chris and Vern and Teddy scamper away. Right when Ace makes his move for Chris's throat, Gordie shoots off a gun. This gun was introduced at the beginning of the journey. Chris swiped it from his dad's drawer and shows Gordie it. We next see it when they're camping out and each kid is standing guard with it after they hear coyotes howling. (And Vern keeps pointing it at every little thing that makes a sound...I was a little scared he might let it go off accidentally!) And then it makes its next and final appearance at this moment. Ace and the others back off, but Ace threatens that this isn't over and he won't forget this. Except that this is the last we hear of the older kids in the movie. I'm sure in the book the younger boys got the s*** beaten out of them! In the end, neither group take credit for finding Ray Brower and they make an anonymous phone call.

There's a very melancholy atmosphere when the four kids return to Castle Rock and say their good-byes and that they'll see each other in junior high. It's like they know that this will be the last adventure they have together before they transition into young adults. Narrator Gordie even tells the audience that he and Chris saw less and less of Vern and Teddy as time went on. The scene where Chris vanishes from the screen after we learn that he had been killed a week ago in the "present day" is more poignant now because of what happened to River Phoenix. Gordie as an adult finishes his memoir by writing, "I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anyone?"

They tried to make the girl version of this movie about a decade later. It's called Now and Then and by all rights I should love that movie because I'm a girl and I would have been the right age to see it when it came out, but I remember disliking it immensely! I honestly don't remember anything about it, just that I hated it, so I should revisit it someday and see if I still hate it or if I was being too hard on it.

Stand By Me celebrated its 30th anniversary a month ago. I found this clip from five years ago when it celebrated its 25th anniversary. If you're a fan of the movie and have never seen this, you'll enjoy it, I promise.

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