Stand by Me (1986)

(On TV, October 2016) Here’s an interesting factoid that may make you feel unbearably old: It’s now been longer since the release of Stand by Me in 1986 (30 years) than the span of time between the film and the events it depicts in 1959. Nostalgia sneaks up on anyone, even movies consciously built around that emotion. Stand by Me is now best remembered as “that non-horror Stephen King adaptation”, focusing on an affectionate novella published in Different Seasons (a book that also spawned The Shawshank Redemption and Apt Pupil). It’s a movie about kids, but the somewhat sombre framing device makes it a film for adults, and most notably baby boomers born around 1947 like King. As a look at the life of a young teenager in 1959, it luxuriates in a recreation of the era, complete with a near-perfect period soundtrack. It’s not much of a plot-driven film: The goal (“walk to the dead body”) is stated early on, and much of the film becomes an episodic string of events until the end. It even throws in a gratuitously disgusting fictional vignette that ends abruptly to protests. Much of the film’s charm comes from its young actors. Other than Kiefer Sutherland as a bully, Stand by Me does feature an extraordinary group with Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Corey Feldman and Jerry O’Connell. Remarkably enough, you can watch the film without being overwhelmed by the actor’s age—other than Sutherland, who already looks like himself, it’s as they are different persons. As a reflection of another era, Stand by Me unabashedly plays up the nostalgia to good effect—the liberties taken by the young character would be horrifying today, even though it’s hard to argue against the dangers they do face along the way. It ends up being a remarkable piece of cinema, still effective today, much later and for entirely different audiences.

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