Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Film Appreciation - The Sky That We Look Upon

Cody Hamman and Film Appreciation go on a life-changing journey with 1986's Stand by Me.

Based on Stephen King's Different Seasons novella The Body and taking its title from Ben E. King's beautiful, powerful 1961 song, the Rob Reiner-directed Stand by Me is a coming-of-age story about four young friends who take a twenty or thirty mile hike through the Oregon wilderness, following train tracks with the intention of reaching a macabre destination: the dead body of a missing local boy.

The four friends - Gordie, Chris, Teddy, and Vern - discover the location of the body through an overheard conversation between Vern's older brother and one of his pals, who found the body of the boy, apparently hit by a train in the dark, but can't report it to the police because they can't explain what they were doing all the way out there. They don't have a car, they stole the one they were in.

The boys set out on their trek for a selfish reason - they like the idea of being celebrated as heroes and getting featured in the newspaper and on TV. They start out with flippant attitudes, but as their journey progresses they begin to realize the seriousness of the situation and events cause more of an emotional resonance.

The boys also have heavy emotional baggage to deal with. Lead character Gordie is still reeling from the death of his beloved brother a few months earlier. He's a writer, but his parents' indifference has given him the idea that writing is a stupid waste of time. Chris is a good kid who's never given a fair chance due to his family's bad reputation. Teddy is extremely caring and protective of his physically abusive father. Vern... well, Vern's just a clueless goof.

During the quiet moments of the walk, Gordie and Chris in particular focus on the troubles in their lives and the choices that will have to be made. This is an important time in their lives, a turning point, and life won't be the same after this trip.

Eventually, Vern's brother and pal reveal to the rest of his gang of hoods - which includes Chris's older brother and is led by a real nasty guy called Ace - that they know where the kid's body is and they also go to check it out, leading to a potentially dangerous confrontation between the two groups out in the woods.

The film has one of the best child casts ever, with the four main characters being played by Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Corey Feldman, and Jerry O'Connell, each perfect for their role. Phoenix is soulful beyond his years in his performance and there's an added weight to it now, after his life and talent has been tragically lost to drugs.

Beyond the core group, there's a great narration by Richard Dreyfuss as an older Gordie, the gang of teenage hoods features Casey Siemaszko (Back to the Future, Three O'Clock High, Young Guns), Gary Riley (Summer School), Bradley Gregg (A Nightmare on Elm Street 3) and is led by Kiefer Sutherland. Marshall Bell is almost creepy in his coldness during his scenes as Gordie's father, and John Cusack plays Gordie's deceased brother in flashbacks.

This is a truly great film and it tugs at the heartstrings without feeling sappy or pandering. It's full of memorable lines and moments: "Two for flinching", train dodge, "Chopper, sic balls!", the run across the bridge, mailbox baseball, "What the hell is Goofy?", "I don't shut up, I grow up, and when I look at you, I throw up." "And then your mother goes around the corner and she licks it up.", "Leeches!", Gordie's amazing story of Lardass Hogan, etc.

As discussed in other articles, there were many movies that were latched on to and watched over and over during my childhood. Stand by Me was one of them, one that I could enjoy with any member of my family. I was a kid when it was released, so I totally got the younger characters and thought their long, unsupervised journey was awesome. My older brother was the same age as the characters when it came out, twelve going on thirteen, so he dug it and initiated several viewings. My parents liked it, it was one of the few non-action movies my father would watch, and with its 1959 setting it was also a look at the era of their childhood. It was watched and enjoyed with my grandmother as well.

It's a relatable sort of story and seemingly almost universally accessible, as long as you don't mind that the kids talk like real kids, with vulgarity and tasteless jokes made at each other's expense. I could identify with the characters as a kid, and as it's a very honest look back at childhood from the perspective of an adult, I can still get a lot from it today, 25 years after its release.

1 comment:

  1. A genuine classic. And I'm STILL wondering what the hell Goofy is...