Stand by Me ★★★★½

Even though it walks a fairly well-trod path toward a goal that is now overplayed, Stand By Me is navigated by four genuine performances that sidestep all the pitfalls into which it could have easily stumbled.

Will Wheaton, River Phoenix, Corey Feldman and Jerry O'Connell are all natural, whether engaging in reckless hijinks, having vulnerable moments of awkward insecurity, or debating 1950s pop culture. These four adolescents carry the entire film and rarely let a false note sneak by.

Rob Reiner's anonymous restraint provides a natural canvas for small moments to have real meaning without an overbearing sense self-importance. Very few of the cliches of this often precious genre feel trite in Reiner's hands, which is astounding, given author Stephen King's tendency to lean on certain comfortably outworn tropes.

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