“I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anyone?”
Stand By Me (1986) opens with a man hunched over a typewriter, writing a novel about his childhood adventures. The narrative jumps back thirty years, where the narrator, Gordie, is twelve years old. We are introduced to his group of misfit friends, Teddy, Vern and his troubled best friend Chris Chambers (River Phoenix), as they embark on a quest to discover the body of a missing boy.
The 80s is often acknowledged as the beginning of the ‘blockbuster’ phenomenon. With the likes of Stars Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (1981) and Back To The Future (1985) storming the box office, the film industry became fixated on the idea of ‘high concept’ plots made accessible for mass audiences. Beyond the trend of blockbusters, thrillers and science fiction, the 1980s was also characterised by coming-of-age tales. Stand By Me emerges as the best example of this trope. The entire project feels youthful. The dialogue is unquestionably true to a twelve year old’s vernacular. On top of that, there is an underlying sense, behind their incisive insults to each other, of an unbreakable camaraderie tying them all together. Each of the boys struggle with the weight of misfortune in some form, from Gordie’s recently deceased older brother to Teddy’s abusive father. Between the lines of their wisecracks and banter, the audience are hit by the elliptical sorrow of their young lives.
Based on the excellent novella by Stephen King entitled The Body, Stand By Me develops the sharp intelligence of King’s writing and creates a moving picture of the tragedy of growing up and leaving behind the people that shape your character. It is a suitable emblem for a decade in film that, despite some of its outlandish blockbuster premises, was essentially concerned with human journeys.