Sunday, May 4, 2014
Movie Review: "Stand By Me" (1986)
Sometimes one element turns an okay movie into a great movie. A little addition that adds an aspect of analysis and reflection to the events of the film.
Such is the case with "The Princess Bride," specifically by making it a fairy tale being told by a grandfather to his sick grandson. Without that element, it would just be a quirky fantasy with some good writing and funny lines. But by making it a story within a story, it adds an element of a fable and mythos. A story that has been passed down through generations, possibly being altered but the core elements remaining. The heart of the film becomes even stronger as a result.
Another film that can be added to that list of films is now "Stand By Me," curiously directed by the same man who brought us "The Princess Bride," Rob Reiner. Much like his other film, "Stand By Me" is a story within a story, but instead of it being a grand fairy tale, this one is a tale of reflection and coming-of-age.
In the middle of a hot summer out of the middle of Oregon, a group of four young teenage boys have just set out on the adventure of their young lives: finding a dead body out in the middle of the forest. Along the way, they have to deal with junkyard dogs, oncoming trains, a gang of hoodlums who are also out looking for the body and themselves.
What makes this film stand out so much is that this is all being told from the perspective of an older version of one of the boys (voiced by Richard Dreyfuss). The narration seems to look back fondly on the events of this adventure, but also takes special note about how much all four changed over the course of thier journey, especially Gordie (Wil Wheaton).
This is a coming-of-age story, but done in a much different way than most others. We don't see these boys change much over the course of the film, because they're so wrapped up in having fun and being obsessed with this dead body. The narrator makes it clear they did learn a lot, they just didn't know it yet. It isn't until after years of reflection and aging that they realized something: You have your best friends when you are twelve years old.
Outside of the narration, "Stand By Me" still does a great job at keeping suspense and looming anticipation over the dead body. Sequences such as the boys having to outrun a train stands out because of how well-paced it is. Each shot lasts just long enough to build the tension and it pays off in a satisfying conclusion.
Even a simple scene like the gang wrestling in the water only to get covered in leeches sticks in my mind, due to the chemistry between the actors. Their looks of concern and dread over what might have happened is the driving force behind many scenes. This takes a great deal of talent to pull off and to see it in a young group of actors makes it all the more impressive.
I think what I enjoyed the most about this film was the genuine sense of adventure. That these boys were going to leave behind the world they knew and explore something uncharted and unknown. No matter what got in their way, they would go on and they were going to do it with their best friends. Each sequence demonstrated that, with all of them standing on their own merits but adding to the greater whole, just like an adventure film should be.
Overall, "Stand By Me" is another great film from Rob Reiner. It makes for an interesting follow-up to "The Princess Bride" as both are timeless works that have found their own voice and speak passionately. One is about the pursuit of true love and time, while the other is about enjoying the time that you have. Because life is not about the destination, but the journey.
Final Grade: A-