Stand By Me (1986) – Film review by Andrea Carnevali

Stand By Me ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ – Review by Andrea Carnevali

After the death of one of his friends, a writer recounts a childhood journey with his friends to find the body of a missing boy. Screening Tuesday 27 June 2023 at Chiswick Cinema with Q&A with Andrea afterwards.

I find incredibly difficult to talk about Stand By Me without being completely biased or detached. My response to any movie is usually an emotional one: if it makes me laugh or cry or even just think then it means somehow it worked; but if it makes me laugh, cry and think… as is the case with Stand by Me, then there must be something more to it!

On Tuesday the 27 of June I’ll be showing this at the Chiswick Cinema and will have the chance to share it with people who might not have seen it before, or at least share my love for it with those who have seen it.

The word ‘classic’ gets over-used all the time. Any anniversary is an excuse to re-release any piece of junk that’s more than 20 years old. Most of those films carry that cheesy sense of nostalgia for the ‘80s, and that’s sometimes enough for them to appropriate themselves with a cult status. But when you look at them closely, you’ll find that they have actually aged quite badly, both technically (terrible matte paintings, visual effects or synthesised music) or stylistically (The look, the clothes and the hairstyles and the corny dialogue nobody seemed to mind so much at the time).

However Stand by me has the advantage of being a period piece (It is set in 1959… “a long time ago, but only if you measure it in terms of years”… to quote the film itself) and its simple, subtle and honest depiction of the period not only hides the cheesiness of the ‘80s but also adds a sense of timelessness to the proceedings. The film is 37 years old (oh my God!! Where has time gone!?!), but it could just as well have been made yesterday… except that they don’t really make them like this, do they?

I loved it at the time, for its sheer sense of fun, adventure and mischief and I love it today for its poignant look at the way we were… A childhood that’s gone, but never forgotten.

It’s the ultimate “coming of age” story, set in the hazy, warm, sunny and dreamy landscape of Oregon, as four friends set out on a journey along some railway tracks, looking for the body of a missing boy.

The film is adapted  from a novella called The Body included in Four Seasons by Stephen King, (The Shawshank Redemption was also adapted from the same book) and like all the best tales from King, finds its strength in the way the characters are fleshed out: rarely have teenagers been so truthfully depicted than in Stand by Me. The contrast between the way they try to act as adults in front of each other, by smoking or swearing and the way they reveal their real age by talking about the most childish and mundane things and yet making them sound profound and meaningful (“Mighty Mouse is a cartoon. Superman’s a real guy!”) is one of the beauties of this film.

Behind all that, there’s a pure and real sense of friendship that permeates the whole film, which is probably the thing that resonates the most with me.

That line at the end on that cold computer screen “I never had friends like the ones I had when I was 12. Jesus, does anyone?” still echoes inside me, so many years later and it’s one of the most poignant and truthful line I can remember in any film.

The interaction between the four young actors is the real power of Stand By Me: never for a moment you think they might be acting. Will Wheaton’s take as the sensitive Gordie is impeccable. The way he pauses before delivering his lines, how he smiles and looks at his best friends, how he proudly tells them the silly story of Lard-Ass, how he breaks down into tears at the sad realisation that his parents might hate him and finally how he coldly threatens Kiefer Sutherland‘s terrifying bully, without even flinching (“Suck my fat one, you cheap dime store hood!”). They don’t give Oscars to performances like this, but God they should!

Both Corey Feldman and Jerry O’Connell are also spot on in their roles, bringing not only that amount of comic relief needed but also that sense of playfulness that kids at that age have (“I don’t shut up I grow up, and when I look at you I throw up!”)

But ultimately it’s River Phoenix who steals the show. The poignancy and sincerity he brings to the role of Chris Chambers is even more enhanced today by his premature death in 1993. The heartbreaking ending of the film (no spoiler here, we are told right at the start) leaves me with a hole in my stomach every time and a sour taste knowing what an incredible actor he could have become.

Beautifully photographed, as seen from the dreamy eyes of an adult (in this case Richard Dreyfuss) who’s obviously very fond of those memories, the film is also accompanied by the most wonderful soundtrack, a mixture of hits from the time, perfectly integrated into the film (like the moment the kids break into singing Lollipop) and the actual score made up with a subtle slowed down version of Stand By Me itself by Ben E. King

This film is a real little gem, a small masterpiece that still works today, not just because its timelessness, but because of its charming and honest look at childhood, a time of innocence when friendship really means something and when the most important question in life is “If Mickey’s a mouse, Donald’s a duck, Pluto’s a dog. What’s Goofy?“.

If you live in London, do make some time for it on Tuesday the 27  June 2023 and come and see it with me at 8pm at the Chiswick Cinema: you won’t regret it.

Book tickets: chiswickcinema.co.uk