Take a Drink: for each Golden Oldie
Take a Drink: for lingo
Take a Drink: for dirty talk
Take a Drink: for the comb
Take a Drink: for trains
Take a Drink: whenever Vern’s dad is an asshole
Take a Drink: for daddy issues in general
Do a Shot: for standing toe to toe with Death
By: Henry J. Fromage (Two Beers) –
Remember when Rob Reiner made good movies? At some point the mind behind This is Spinal Tap and The Princess Bride curdled into a shallow pool of callow sentimentality. Maybe it was Roger Ebert’s sick burns, or maybe it was just that deadly mix of success, wealth, and aging, but Reiner’s had less edge than a Fisher Price knife for, oh, 20 years or so.
John Wick could still kill you with it, though…
One film that everyone remembers fondly, but which often gets mentally lumped in with some of his more mellow coming of age-type films is Stand By Me. Nothing could be further from the truth, “”I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anyone?” be damned. The story follows four adolescent friends, future writer Vern (Jerry O’Connell) whose grownup perspective this is from, big-hearted ne’er-do-well Chris (River Phoenix), psychologically damaged wildcard Teddy (Corey Feldman), and a dorky, awkward Gordie (Will Wheaton). It’s Gordie who gets the story moving, when he convinces the band they’ll be heroes if they can find the body of a missing kid hit by a train a few days before. They set off on their adventure, but a bunch of rougher teenagers led by Chris’s brother, Ace (a miraculously douchy Kiefer Sutherland) have the same idea.
This is a truly excellent film, but for different reasons than most people think of. Yes, it’s steeped in Golden Age memories, coming of age tropes, and irreverent humor, lovingly recreated and brought to life by Reiner and his destined for greatness/notoriety cast (a young John Cusack makes an appearance as well), and yes, that’s driven home by the present day framing device and Richard Dreyfuss’s nostalgic voiceover. However, this is no A Christmas Story.
As dark as that one could get…
Vern’s story that he is writing, and hence the movie, is about one thing- death- and particularly about one of the characters’ deaths, revealed almost as an afterthought in the postscript describing the fates of the boys. At first this leaves a bad taste in your mouth. “Why did he have to die?’ you ask. Simple because the film is wholly about the elder Vern coming to terms with that death.
Stand By Me is utterly consumed with death, not just the young boys’ quest to find the dead body and their ensuing loss of innocence, but also suicide, Teddy and Ace’s brinkmanship, flirtation and fascination with it, attempting to control it and the futility of the attempts, and ultimately coming to terms with its universal, unknowable, seemingly random essence. By couching this examination of life’s darkest truths in sepia-toned, almost idyllic remembrance, Reiner helps his characters, and his audience, process them.
Some of the dialogue and lingo feels a bit dated, and it’s not because of the 50s setting. Writing credible dialogue, for kids especially, is difficult, and often practically carbon dates a film. You don’t need to be a scientist to tell this is from the 80s.
It’s strange how River Phoenix’s untimely death and the aging of the film’s original audience has just redoubled Stand By Me‘s themes and power. This is a film built to stand the test of time.