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100. EMPIRE MAGAZINE GREATEST: Stand By Me

January 2, 2018

Director: Rob Reiner
Screenplay: Bruce A. Evans, Raynold Gideon
Starring: Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Corey Feldman, Jerry O'Connell, Kiefer Sutherland
Runtime: 89 Minutes

 

Original UK Release: 1987

 

★★★★★

 

Stand By Me is Stephen King’s ode to the dark complexities of childhood in the outlying communities of middle America. Saturated in the sounds of 50s pop and the washed out colours of a Norman Rockwell painting, this positions itself as an affirming tale of childhood friendships that are stronger than words or blood ties, as a quartet of friends trek across the county to find a supposed dead body that has been left undiscovered in the woods.

 

The leading actors are young stars of their era but show an incredible balance as both mature and reasonable talents with penchants for adolescent silliness. Will Wheaton’s Gordie captures all the frustration of one who falls into the shadows of their older siblings – also played with sympathetic gusto by John Cusack – and the fight for approval from an elder generation out of touch with the youths they are bringing up in a changing post-war America. River Phoenix is a revelation in his best role as Chris, with stirring emotional complexity and anguish boiling underneath his boyish good looks. Corey Feldman continues his streak of good fortune with Teddy, an emotionally damaged and temperamental outcast that borders all too close to Feldman’s real-life pain, and Jerry O’Connell as Vern is the hilarious and sincere as most genuine figure of the whole group.

 

Rob Reiner’s direction is beautiful, his presentation, reserve and lightness of the films look – in thanks to Thomas Del Ruth’s warm photography – make the story feel as timeless as the childhood memories that it depicts. The film aesthetically looks like it belongs in the 1950s, and is utterly unapologetic in its self-sustained sense of meditative self-control and the wandering pace of its structure and editing practices.

 

The screenplay by Bruce A. Evans and Raynold Gideon keeps to the darkness of the original short story on which it’s based, but keeps itself buoyant through the chemistry of its leads and its detours into childish delights and storytelling, as they come to terms with their prospective futures and interwoven pasts in cathartic and reassuring emotional beats.

 

Stand By Me’s narrative is dark and questionable but it’s filled with light and affection. It’s not as bothered with the endpoint of their journey to find the dead body – or how they even deal with the situation when it comes to a head – as it is with seeing how these boys change under the circumstances, and revel in the bliss of their happy days together unaware of what the future might bring.

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