animaldoctor’s review published on Letterboxd:
As I've mentioned before, there's a lot of classic movies that I have never seen before. My friend and fellow LetterBoxd user RowanHarper keeps telling me to watch said films (there's one in particular that I'm going to be reviewing this weekend that he has been encouraging me to watch for at least two years now), and when I mentioned I had never seen Stand by Me, he once again got on my case for it. I actually ended up having some time tonight to watch this movie-- I didn't have much homework, I only watched one episode of Doc Martin with my parents (we usually watch two or three TV episodes at a time), and the film is only 90 minutes, so I figured it was time for me to give it a watch. Boy, did it hit me. Stand by Me is one of the best films I've seen in a while and might be in my personal top twenty or thirty favorite movies of all time. Maybe that's an impulsive opinion, but that's how I feel right now because of how good I thought this movie was.
First off, let's talk about what's probably the best aspect of this movie-- but let's face it, that's really hard to pick-- the main teenage characters. These teens are amazing. Their chemistry as a quartet is absolutely incredible, each of their individual performances is great (I'll delve more into the acting later), and most of all, they feel just like real teenagers. Even thirty years after this film was released and fifty after these teenagers supposedly grow up, I still relate to them as much as if this movie was trying to portray teenagers in the 21st century, they're that well-realized. They talk and act like real teenagers, they insult each other like real teenagers, they feel like a tight-knit group, and they're just so fun to watch. Some of the one-liners that these kids spout (in fact, most of them) are absolute comedy gold, and what I love most about this group of kids is that they're risk-takers, but they still know when something is a bad idea and could potentially kill them. There's an amazing scene where Chris, played by a young River Phoenix, and Gordie, played by a young Will Wheaton, talk about how they might grow apart as friends in the future because they're headed down different paths and Chris feels that Gordie actually has potential in the world, and I couldn't help but commend that character choice. The friends are rebels, they get into trouble, but they don't feel comfortable forcing someone who isn't as much of a risktaker into doing things that might ruin their lives. I've never seen teenage characters like that portrayed on the big screen before, and I really respect this movie for doing that. I mean, they don't even force Gordie to SMOKE, for God's sake. Those are some damn good friends, I'll be completely honest.
Again, the acting in this film is fantastic all around. Of course, it's the four teenagers who get the most screentime and they all do a fantastic job, particularly Wheaton and Phoenix, who both get some incredibly emotional scenes to work with. Corey Feldman as Teddy and Jerry O'Connell as Vern also do a really good job, although their line delivery is slightly awkward at times. By slightly, I really do mean SLIGHTLY. Like, their line delivery is a little awkward at the beginning of the film, but by half an hour in, they're completely absorbed into their characters and the awkwardness is gone. It's barely noticeable in the grand scheme of things, especially since this is apparently O'Connell's first film. That's a pretty meaty role for a first-time kid actor and he pulled it off really well. John Cusack only gets two scenes, but I'm gonna be completely honest, I choked up at the end of both of those scenes because of him. Heck, if his performance was meatier, I would argue this was my favorite performance of his. Kiefer Sutherland is also in this film, and I didn't even recognize him in any shape or form. His voice doesn't sound the same, he doesn't look the same, I was so shocked that of all people, he was freaking Ace. I could not believe my eyes when I realized that. Richard Dreyfuss is also involved in the film in some way, but I won't give away how.
The screenplay is absolutely marvelous. Again, the two most important aspects of making teenage characters feel realistic are the performances and the writing, and the writing for these characters is on point. The dialogue feels authentic, and as I said, there are some incredibly funny one-liners. I love the emotional arcs of this film-- how Teddy hates it when people refer to his dad as a nutcase, how Chris doesn't feel like he'll ever amount to anything, how Gordie feels like he's the "invisible boy" because his brother is no longer there to stick up for him, and how they all grew up in really terrible home environments. They all feel so necessary to the story and just add to the depth of these characters. Along with the writing, the direction and cinematography are also stunning. Rob Reiner directs the hell out of this film, making sure every single shot in this film has a purpose. The scenery of this film is absolutely gorgeous. The bright green forests, the symmetry of the train tracks, the beautiful views from afar, the small town of Castle Rock-- all of these locations look amazing. There's one scene in particular where the kids are forced to cross a river by walking over train tracks, and the shots in that scene are just beautiful to look at. There's a directional choice involving a fictional story Gordie tells by the campfire where the colors of the clothing on the characters are more pastel-looking than those in the real world and the movements are more cartoony and the situations are more ridiculous. It makes you feel like you're in a completely different universe, and the story itself is absolutely hilarious and deservedly over-the-top.
At its core, Stand by Me truly is a coming-of-age film. The emotional arcs of the characters are beautifully realized and emotionally resonant even today-- heck, I choked up in the first 15 minutes-- the teen actors all do a marvelous job, and the writing of all of the characters feels genuine. It truly feels like this movie is taking that group of rebellious teenagers that you probably know from your own school and showing you why they act the way they do. It's got well-realized characters, great acting, an amazing script, beautiful cinematography, a really great score that uses the titular song really effectively, and great character drama that is just so engaging to watch. Even a few dated line deliveries from some of the teenagers, some minor dialogue choices that don't make sense, and vomit special effects that don't QUITE seem to be coming from the actor's mouths is not enough for me to say that this movie has any flaws because those flaws are so minor in the grand scheme of this masterpiece that I don't think they even matter. If I'm remembering correctly, this is my first ever Stephen King film and my first ever River Phoenix film. This was a great introduction to both realms. If you've got 90 minutes and you haven't seen this film yet, do yourself a favor. See it.
Letter Grade: A+