Coming Of Age, Page To Screen

Maddy’s Pick For The Weekend 6: Stand By Me (1986)

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This is one of the best films out there about friendship. It is also a fantastic coming of age story. The film shows us how precious and sometimes how fleeting friendship can be. People come in and out of our lives over the years, some find a permanent place in our hearts and lives, while some sadly become nothing more than a memory.

When I watch this I’m always reminded of my own childhood. During the primary school years, and into my early teens; I was part of a trio of friends who were so close that we were just like sisters. When the High School and College years approached we sadly drifted apart and hardly saw each other. As the years passed we saw even less of each other, until eventually we were no longer in each others lives. I will never forget either of them, nor will I forget the many happy times we spent together.

I love Geordie’s final line in the film about never having had friends like the ones he had when he was twelve , because that is just so true;  your childhood friendships will always be special due to the fun you had and the innocent period of your lives this took place in. Friends will come in and out of your life, but those childhood friends will always be in your heart.

Stand By Me is directed by Rob Reiner, and is based on the book The Body by Stephen King. It is set in the small town of Castle Rock, Oregon during the 1950’s. A young boy goes out to pick berries and fails to return home. A search fails to find him and he is presumed dead.

A group of friends – gentle and recently bereaved Geordie(Wil Wheaton), excitable and adventurous Teddy(Corey Feldman), wise and tough Chris(River Phoenix)and nervous and talkative Vern(Jerry O’Connell)- decide to go looking for him, thinking they might get an award(or at least some publicity)if they find him. Over a two day hike the boys are forced to quickly come of age and face up to the harsh realities of life. Their bond grows stronger and they have an adventure they will never forget.

I love this film so much because the characters and what they are going through are so relatable. We all had something happen to us when we were young that made us realise what life is really like, it sadly can’t all be fun and innocence for ever.

During the film each of these boys becomes stronger in some way and goes through a life changing event.  The performances from Wheaton, Phoenix, O’Connell and Feldman are extraordinary, given how young (and relatively inexperienced)they were as actors at the time. They are so natural and come across as a group who really could be friends. They look like they are having loads of fun in the scenes like the water spitting, walking the train tracks and their comic arguments and discussions.

Phoenix in particular is excellent as he plays the father figure in the group, and he is someone who has already grew up in many ways unlike the others. I love how protective he is of the others and how he has to act responsibly all the time. The scene where he breaks down and reveals his sadness is so moving and Phoenix makes your heart break for him.

Feldman makes Teddy’s anger totally believable. You really believe this is a troubled kid, he still loves his dad despite what he did to him. He is strong but of them all, he is probably the most vulnerable, although he’d never admit it.

O’Connell is the films comic relief, as the talkative and to the point Vern. I love how proud he is because he has brought a comb with him, so they can look good for the cameras. Vern is the one who says or does what most of us would do in some of these situations we see in the film.

Wheaton is the shy, sensitive and underappreciated kid who finds an inner strength he didn’t even know he had.  He undergoes the most change in the film, and Wheaton portrays it so well.

Kiefer Sutherland is menacing as Ace Merrill, the local bully and fearless/unbalanced leader of the gang called The Cobras.  Ace and his gang are also on their way to look for the boys body. Ace and his gang are the terrifying possible future that awaits Geordie and his friends; young men whose innocence is long gone, hardened due to life experiences and bad behaviour.

John Cusack is Geordie’s older brother, Denny. I love their relationship as it is one of the sweetest and most moving I’ve ever seen.  Denny is a football star and is popular in the neighborhood, he is the apple of his parents eye.

When the film opens, Denny has been dead for a few months. His death was unexpected and destroyed his parents. Geordie is grief stricken too, but doesn’t know how to deal with his grief, he hasn’t even cried for his brother yet. Denny’s death is made even sadder when we learn that he and Geordie were so close, and that Denny made their parents pay attention to Geordie instead of focusing on him all of the time. With Denny gone, Geordie is barely noticed at home and only has his friends to turn to for support and to talk to.

Richard Dreyfuss plays the elder Geordie, looking back on his bittersweet childhood memories. He also serves as the films narrator.

My favourite scenes are the following. The water spitting scene, especially the bit where Teddy spits his at Vern(it’s one of those moments that you can see coming and can’t help laughing at.) Chris saving Teddy from his suicidal train dodge. Geordie seeing the deer. Geordie’s story about the pie eating contest. Chris telling Geordie to take the college classes. The boys running from the train. All the flashback scenes between Geordie and Denny. Ace holding his nerve driving straight at an on coming truck. Vern debating with Teddy about whether a cartoon character could beat up Superman. Chris telling Geordie about the milk money.  The end where we learn what happened between the boys.

A moving and funny film about friendship, love, adventure and children coming of age. There is some gorgeous scenery in this and the on location work really adds to the authenticity of the story. There’s also a cracking soundtrack, featuring the title song by Ben E. King.

I always feel like I’ve walked the tracks with these boys and that I’ve experienced some sort of life changing event myself whilst watching. This is a great favourite and one of the best pieces of work from both Reiner and King.

Please share your thoughts on the film below.

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