Sunday, August 9, 2015

The Essentials- "Stand By Me" (1986)

The Essentials-#101

Stand By Me
I have been one of Stephen King's biggest fans all of my life, and I can never completely grasp why so few filmmakers have been able to adapt his work successfully. While I understand that he is a very weird writer, and there needs to be some incredible thought processes going on in order to even attempt to adapt half the stories he's brainstormed, that's not an excuse for me. There is no such thing as a bad idea in movies, it depends on context and execution. It just seems nobody seems to grasp those two important factors when attempting something by Stephen King, and that has bothered me for quite some time now. 

Maybe "Stand By Me" worked because its one of those rare King stories that never goes completely off-the-rails in terms of storytelling, theme and content. Maybe since its so grounded in reality, it is able to imprint on an audience better. Or maybe, somebody was finally able to tap into what makes Stephen King so great in the first place, and used all of it to their advantage. I am not really sure, I just know that "Stand By Me" is something that hits my sweet spot every time I watch it. "Stand By Me" plays like a nostalgic time machine. A journey to a time period in which I never got to experience, and watching people I will never be able to meet. Even though I was never living in the time these characters do, that doesn't mean I don't identify with them. They go through several human emotions in this movie, such as want, desire, need, things we all feel everyday. 

The story is pretty simple. Four best friends Chris (River Phoenix), Vern (Jerry O'Connell), Teddy (Corey Feldman) and Gordie (Wil Wheaton) hear about a dead body on the outskirts of the town they live in, and since they have never seen a dead body before, they would like to go out and see it. They think that if they find it first and report it to the authorities, they will be heroes. So the entire movie is the journey they embark on to find this body. While also competing with an older gang of ruthless boys, lead by Ace (Kiefer Sutherland).

Its a great showcase for several great actors who grew up to be great. I can't believe that Wheaton is pretty non-existent these days, because he is the heart and soul of the group. I know he went on to act a lot in the upcoming years after this, but his presence today is abysmal. Its really too bad, because he really stood out in this movie. As did River Phoenix, the frienship between Chris and Gordo is the glue to this group of friends, as well as our eyes through this daring journey. If the actors were not up for the part, the movie would have failed. But Phoenix nails everything he was given to do, and its a shame we lost Phoenix so young, because who knows what he would have done now. Jerry O'Connell and Corey Feldman are both pretty funny and Sutherland is twisted in this movie. I also like the subtle yet sincere work by John Cusack and Richard Dreyfus.

What I also love is that this looks like the landscape you would find in rural America in the 1950's. I love each song in the movie and it perfectly highlights the themes, moods and emotions of the movie. I love the radio shows throughout the movie. I love every old-school style and costume in the movie. When I say this feels like a time machine, I mean it with every sense of the word. The team behind this movie embraced the time period, and it really shows here.

So if you've been bitterly disappointed with most Stephen King adaptations, trust me, you won't be with this one.

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