Could Stand By Me be the best coming-of-age movie ever made?
Quite possibly. For a film that’s so remarkably thin on plot – four friends go looking for a dead body, find it, and go home – Stand By Me is impossibly packed with numerous meditations on adolescent ambition, failed parenthood, and childhood friendship, told from the perspective of four kids on the verge of discovering just how wide and deceptive the parameters of burgeoning adulthood can be.
Anchoring Reiner’s sensitive yet far from condescending handling of preteen movie tropes are a quartet of triumphant performances from the four leads – the shy and softly-spoken Gordie (Will Wheaton), River Phoenix as the cool miscreant Chris, Vern – the comic but never mocked relief (Jerry O’Connell) and Corey Feldman as the perpetually furied Teddy Duchamp. All four children, it is inferred, have been let down in some way by their elders. In fact, in the world of Stand By Me, adults are venal, insensitive or just plain absent.
Richard Dreyfuss joins the ranks of the likes of Stewart, Hurt and McKellen in the jostle for the honeyed Voice Over crown, and as the older Gordie, narrates the film with a reserved modesty which can veer from desperately deadpan, to desperately heartbreaking with the most gossamer changes in intonation and timbre. Composer Jack Nitzsche modulates the classic Ben E. King title track with dreamy glass harmonicas and delicate string-work, and The West Wing’s longtime cinematographer Thomas Del Ruth’s panoramic lenses make the most of the fecund Oregon landscape.
You can set off on a voyage of discovery of your own hoping to find a more soulful movie about the tricksy transition from boy to man, but you won’t find it.
Words: Ash Verjee