Phoenix and Friends Follow the Tracks not the River
"Stand by Me" is a very simple movie, it is the journey of four boys who go in search of a dead body and along the train track they follow they learn more about themselves, growing up in the process. Yes "Stand by Me" is a coming of age movie, one from the 80s and after nearly 25 years it remains not only one of the most popular but also one of the best of it's type. Why, well I think everyone who still loves "Stand by Me" has their own special reason, something in the movie they connect to on a personal level. But even when you get passed the personal connection "Stand by Me" is a beautifully made movie with humour, great music, great acting from a young cast and delivers a stunning sense of nostalgia.
Sitting in his car writer Gordie Lachance reminisces back to his childhood and the summer in the 50s when he and his best friends Chris, Teddy and Vern set out in search of a dead body. On their travels down a railway track they share stories and adventures but also grow closer than ever sharing a bond which stayed with them long after that summer ended.
What is interesting is that "Stand by Me" has a storyline about these four young boys heading out on an adventure to find a dead body. But to be honest finding the dead body isn't what "Stand by Me" is about as it is about the friendship of these four young boys and the sharing which goes on along the way. It is a pure coming of age movie as each of the characters from the kid from the no good family, the chubby one, the whacky one and also what you could say is the normal one all deal with their hang ups. And by the end of their journey they have grown as individuals with a stronger friendship and understanding of each other.
And alongside this coming of age storyline you have the nostalgic look back as the movie starts with a narrator explaining to us about that summer in the 50s setting the scene and explaining why these young boys decide to go looking for a dead body. It is the nostalgic side of "Stand by Me" which is so appealing and I am not just talking about a brilliant soundtrack. For those who grew up in the 50s can reminisce over simpler times when you could go on boy's own style adventures, camp out in the wild, trespass in a junk yard and so on. Whilst for those of us who never had such an experience can feel like we are going on these adventures vicariously, although it does make you wish that you had such an experience for real. It makes you wish you had a close encounter with a train on a bridge, told dirty jokes, made fun of each other and toasted marsh mallows on an open fire.
All of which is great but the biggest thing about "Stand by Me" is no matter whether you had similar experiences or wish you did you can associate with the characters and what they are going through. There may be only 4 important characters but they are a diverse bunch with all different sorts of hang ups from feeling alone, ignored, abused by a drunken father or just coming from the wrong family. And all those issues about what will happen to them when they go their separate ways can also be so easily associated with. It is the combination of this and the great nostalgic feel that makes "Stand by Me" such a marvellous movie which communicates on a very personal level.
Aside from the storyline and the coming of age issues it also has to be said that "Stand by Me" features some terrific performances from the 4 main child actors. Singling out a single young star or performance would be wrong as Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Corey Feldman and Jerry O'Connell all put in brilliant performances and are convincing as 4 young friends going on an adventure of a life time. These four young actors are not alone as "Stand by Me" also features Kiefer Sutherland, John Cusack and Richard Dreyfuss but those 4 young actors were the stars and they are the ones who create believable characters that we can associate with, laugh with and also sometimes laugh at.
What this all boils down to is that "Stand by Me" even now nearly 25 years later is still one of the best coming of age movies ever made. It's fun and nostalgic, brilliantly directed and features a great soundtrack. But more importantly it gives us 4 characters that we can associate with, we can recognize elements in them that are in us and so relate to them.