“You guys wanna go see a dead body?” Can you believe that ‘Stand by Me’ officially turned 25-years-old this week? In the summer of 1986 (August 8th to be exact), Rob Reiner’s now-classic movie about the adventures of childhood graced movie theater screens across the country. This seems like a good time to take a look back on one of the quintessential young adolescent films of our time.
I was reminded of the anniversary when listening to ‘All Things Considered‘ on NPR. Wil Wheaton, who played young writer Gordie Lachance, talked about filming the movie, his close friendship with co-star River Phoenix, and Phoenix’s untimely death. The show discussed the popularity that ‘Stand by Me‘ went on to achieve. Wheaton admitted that he felt something “special” was being made as soon as filming started. Indeed, something special was made – a movie that would transcend time and become a piece of popular cinema, not to mention pure Americana.
What surprises me is about the popularity of ‘Stand by Me’ is that it’s a movie about young kids which carries an R rating. These kids are potty mouths, much more than the kids from ‘The Goonies‘ or ‘The Sandlot’. But isn’t that more realistic? What do kids do when they’re finally alone in their own group? They try to emulate the behavior they see from their parents. Gordie and his friends do just that in the movie. Watching them interact with each other is one of the many pleasures of the film.
‘Stand by Me’ and its themes are surprisingly grown-up considering the age of the movie’s stars. Teddy Duchamp (Corey Feldman) is dealing with an abusive father – a father that he defends fervently throughout the movie despite his wrongful actions. Vern Tessio (Jerry O’Connell) is the least popular kid in the group. He tries to fit in, but let’s face it, he’s overweight and acts funny. He’s the perfect target to pick on. Ace Merrill (Kiefer Sutherland) represents a real and dangerous threat. He’s perhaps one of the best, most convincing bullies ever depicted on screen. Most movie bullies seem to blow a lot of hot air, but Ace backs his threats up with a terrifying persona. Sutherland’s performance still gives me the heebie-jeebies every time I revisit the movie.
During Wheaton’s interview, I was struck by something he said, which I felt encapsulated ‘Stand by Me’ perfectly.
Stand by Me, it sort of talks about this time in your life that feels incredibly complicated, but as you get older you realize it’s actually incredibly simple and we get the tremendous gift of not knowing that it’s never going to be like that again for the rest of our lives, so it’s just pure and it’s uncomplicated. And it’s a time that stays with us even as we become adults.
Isn’t that the God’s honest truth? At that time in our young lives, it seems like everything is so complicated and so important. Going on this journey and discovering a dead body is the be-all/end-all in these kids’ lives at that moment. The magic of the movie is that we buy into that. We go along with them, on that trip. We remember how, at that age, we would’ve felt the same way and tried to do the same thing.
‘Stand by Me’ is magical in a way that many movies aren’t. It feels genuinely concerned about young boys coming of age. It’s a movie that’s infinitely relatable, a movie whose themes will resonate just as much with kids today as kids from yesteryear. These kids may cuss like seasoned sailors, but they embody the intricate ideals of friendship and camaraderie.
What a great movie. Happy 25th birthday, ‘Stand by Me’!