Thursday, May 23, 2013

Penny Thoughts ‘13—Stand By Me (1986) ****

R, 89 min.
Director: Rob Reiner
Writers: Raynold Gideon, Bruce A. Evans, Stephen King (novella “The Body”)
Starring: Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Corey Feldman, Jerry O’Connell, Kiefer Southerland, Casey Siemaszko, Gary Riley, Bradley Gregg, Jason Oliver, Marshall Bell, Frances Lee McCain, John Cusack, Richard Dreyfuss

“Now he said, ‘Sic‘em, boy!’ But what I heard was, ‘Chopper! Sic balls!’”

I’ve had a lot drawing me to this movie lately. I’ve been watching an older Wil Wheaton on “Star Trek: The Next Generation”. There’s a new movie out in theaters, which I desperately want to see titled “Mud”; it is drawing some comparison to this 80s classic. Summer is upon us, although this is really a late summer movie. And, the line “Chopper! Sic Balls!” has been stuck in my head for some unknown reason.

It’s been many years since I last saw this movie. I still remember vividly when it came out in theaters. My parents saw it on a date night, and couldn’t stop talking about it. Of course, it appealed to their sense of nostalgia because it took place at a time when they were nearly the same age as the kids in the movie. They loved the soundtrack, which is a wonderful golden oldies soundtrack. They loved the way the kids thought about things and talked about things they did as children. They loved the hairstyles and clothing styles. They loved the cars.

They liked the movie so much they gave my brother and I permission to see it despite its ‘R’ rating. They realized that as kids of the same age, we knew all the bad words used in the movie. It didn’t hold the same sentimental meaning for me that it did for my parents, although they had versed us well in the soundtrack of the late 50s. Yet it was just as nostalgic an experience for someone of my generation because it is about what it is like to be young, old enough to have an idea of your place in the world and young enough that the full potential of what life is about is still ahead of you. I certainly didn’t see it on those terms at the time. I just saw kids my age acting and thinking like me.

The acting by the principles here is rather astounding. Many of us realize the potential we lost when River Phoenix died, but the other three kids are just as wonderful in their performances as this star-making picture for Phoenix. Wil Wheaton doesn’t look or sound anything like Richard Dreyfuss, who plays his older self here, but their presences match perfectly. I have no trouble believing either of them are master wordsmiths. Corey Feldman had yet to decide just how cool he thought he was, and so gives a totally unaffected performance of an outsider kid. And Jerry O’Connell couldn’t have been better cast as “the fat kid.” I, of course, don’t speak of his physical stature, but his spiritual one.

Death is a major focal point in the movie. It opens with the newspaper death announcement of an attorney named Chris Chambers, who we will soon learn is the name of the character played by River Phoenix in the movie long flashback to The Writer’s last summer of pure childhood. The first line of the flashback is as follows, “I was 12 going on 13 the first time I saw a dead human being.” Gordy’s childhood has been interrupted by the accidental death of his older brother, played in further flashbacks by John Cusack. But what is the purpose of all this death?

I think in his original novella, “The Body”, the primary thing Stephen King was trying to tap into was the notion that death really starts at the end of childhood. “I never had friends later on like those I had when I was 12. Jesus, does anyone?” These are the final words of the movie from a man who has lived a full life, with a successful career and a family of his own. He then joins his own son and a friend outside in a playful manner. Despite all the death here, this story is a celebration of life. It celebrates life at it last primal stage. Before we’ve made any of the choices that will place us in the roles in which we will live our adult lives. In our adult roles, we are restricted by the details of life. In our youth, they free us.

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