Late to the Party: Stand by Me

My main motivation to watch this film was that it starred Wil Wheaton, who is quickly becoming one of my nerd idols.  I’ve seen him in the Guild, a couple of clips from Star Trek: The Next Generation and an episode of The Big Bang Theory.  I wanted to see something of his that wasn’t a huge part of geek culture, so when I happened upon this movie a few months back, I jotted it down onto my ever-growing to-watch list and waited for the opportunity to give it a go.

There was no live-tweeting from me for this film.  This is mostly because I worked an eleven-hour day and was in a positively foul mood when I got home before I watched it, so I didn’t want that temper of mine spilling over into the tweets.  (This is being posted late for similar reasons — my apologies.)

*   *   *   *   *

Upon learning from their older brothers that there is a dead body in the woods near their town, four young boys go on an expedition to find it.  Along the way, their lives are threatened (in a myriad of ways), their resolve tested and their friendship strengthened.


In a slight change of habit, I’m going to tackle general aspects of the film first and focus on the characters after — mostly because I have even more to say about them than I have for the movies I’ve reviewed in the past.

I’m going to touch briefly on the music used in the film. While I was watching it, I hardly noticed any score that was specific to the movie.  I don’t know if that’s because I wasn’t as focused as I probably should have been, but I honestly can’t remember any instrumental music at all.  What I do remember is the choice of songs that was used throughout the movie, like Rockin’ Robin. Now, for those of you who don’t know me personally, I should tell you that musically speaking, I live under a rock. It’s difficult for me these days to hear a song on the radio, in a TV show or in a recent movie and to instantly recall the artist and the title.  In Stand by Me, I recognized a lot of the songs used and that was part of what made the movie enjoyable for me.

Moving on to the narration, I didn’t pay attention to what little bits there were, and that’s probably because it was underused. I only remember the bits at the beginning when Gordie is explaining his friends’ back-stories, the little bit at the end about how people don’t have friends as close as they did when they were twelve, and the random part about Gordie seeing the deer on the train-tracks.  That last one stuck out to me because it was so out of nowhere; there had been little memorable narration leading up to that point, and to have that small scene mentioned by the narrator just seemed off to me

Ohhhh ship!

Before I dive into my impressions of each of the protagonists, I’d like to comment on just how real they were. Someone — I believe it was Bree, but I could be wrong — pointed out  that they loved the characters because they were accurate to how the kids would have acted in real life. They swore. They smoked. They made fun of each other. They got into trouble. They made the characters much more believable because I know that youngsters often do get into those kinds of habits, so … points for realism!

The story-telling scene, though … I don’t even know what to say about that. It seemed like such a huge detour from everything that had happened up to that point. We know that Gordie’s written stories in the past, but I found the story beyond ridiculous and — if I’m being honest — kinda gross. I mean, really, a bullied kid giving his bullies their comeuppance by making them vomit all over each other? Ugh.

… Anywho. Main characters.

Wish I could give him a hug. The poor guy.

I really don’t know what to say about Gordie either, to be honest. This paragraph sat here until the rest of the review was written because I was hoping I’d be able to come up with something that was at least slightly intelligent to say about him, but I fear I’m failing miserably in that respect.  In spite of the fact that the movie was centered around him and that his older self was narrating it, I found it very difficult to connect with him at all. Yes, he’s got a sad story. His parents ignore him because they can’t get over his brother’s death. He has nightmares in which his father tells him that he should have been the one to die. He breaks down after finding the body that they were looking for and says that his parents hate him. Even with this knowledge of his character, I don’t feel like I know him nearly as much as the other three, and that bothers me. I love my exposition, so maybe if they’d spent a little more time flushing out his life before introducing us to his friends, I might feel differently. Who knows.

Teddy drove me a little crazy, being the most prone to acting out and doing whatever he wanted; the scene when he stands in front of the oncoming train had me shaking my head and going, “What the hell is he doing?” (Sometimes the sensible part of me is a bit of a buzz-kill when watching movies, I’m not gonna lie.) He grew on me after a time, though, for the same reason that Chris did: he showed vulnerability. After the volatile confrontation with the man who looks after the junkyard, he lets himself cry about it for a bit, which seems like a bigger deal since he was around his friends.  The whole “boys don’t cry” thing just goes right out the window, and I kind of loved that. There was no judgment there.

Holy eff, who huddles down on the train tracks when there's a train coming at them?!

My impression of Vern is much like my impression of Chunk from The Goonies: he’s likable at times, but it was really easy for him to get under my skin.  He’s the token fat kid (who really isn’t all that overweight) who is paranoid and over-excitable and far too easy to make fun of. In some ways, he’s one of the more sensible boys of the group, but that thought is quickly negated by his choosing to do silly things like crawling across the train-bridge while a locomotive was bearing down on him.  I would have liked to see him grow as much as his friends did; it didn’t feel like he’d changed by any noticeable amount by the time the credits started rolling.

(At the moment I’m trying to think of a movie that involves a group of childhood friends that doesn’t have that one character that annoys the snot out of everyone.  So far there aren’t any that come to mind, but in all fairness, I’m not in the best state of mind to be thinking about people irritating other people.  If you lovely folks can think of some, feel free to point them out to me in the comments!

Chris ended up being my favourite character of the four, which was a bit of a surprise to me. He was insane, plain and simple, but he also had a very insightful, vulnerable side that got to me.  His discussion with Gordie about which classes they would be taking struck a chord with me. It seems like every group of friends has that same fear of being separated once they hit middle- or high school, but his reaction to that possibility was incredibly stirring.  At one point shortly after the junkyard scene, Chris tells Gordie that if Gordie’s father doesn’t care enough about him to make sure his does something with his life, then he would do it instead.

That conversation is such a defining moment in establishing the strength of the boys’ friendship, and it was refreshing to see such a serious exchange between characters as young as they were, and even more so considering that the characters were all male.  I was pleasantly surprised at the number of such moments, including Ted letting out his anger against his father being called a loon, Gordie’s breakdown in which he finally cries for his brother four months after his death, and Chris’ confession that he didn’t want to live under the stigma of being a troublemaker in their town for the rest of his life.

I totally get you, Chris.

I was discussing certain things about the movie with a good Twitter-friend of mine and he mentioned that while he could understand Ted and Gordie’s moments of vulnerability, he had much less empathy for Chris.  In contrast, that last point about the future of Chris’ life in that town was incredibly familiar to me, and it almost had more weight than either Ted or Gordie’s situations.  Having grown up in a small town not unlike the boys’ hometown, I know better than most that people you grow up with have a very specific idea of who everyone else is in that town, and it’s nearly impossible to change anyone’s opinions of you; if you can manage it, it takes years.

If you brand yourself as someone who gets good grades and stays out of mischief, that’s what you are to the entire town.  In the same token, if you start stirring up trouble early on in your life, that is what people will expect from you for the rest of your life until you give them a million and one reasons to think otherwise.  I was of the former persuasion, being the notorious goody-two-shoes that I am; but I know a fair share of people who were slotted into the latter, and as far as I know, they’re still getting into trouble and no one I talk to ever sounds surprised by it. For Chris to worry that he is already that type of person in everyone’s mind is not hyperbolic in any way, shape or form, and I fear that that fact is lost on many people who saw the film but didn’t grow up in similar surroundings.  It was extremely powerful to hear such a young character fear for his reputation and want to escape it so that he can have a life in which people don’t judge him for things that he did years ago.

"That's not a knife ..."

It took me a little while to realize what had actually happened in the film.  There didn’t seem to be any obvious character progression while I was watching it, but after I gave it a few days to sink in, I realized just how wrong I was. Aside from Vern, who is as static a protagonist as I’ve ever seen, each of the boys came to terms with something in their life that bothered them. They were all subject to a showdown of sorts, be it with a train or an older brother with a knife.  When I first watched it, all I could think was, “This is just a lot of stuff happening and they’re just reacting. There’s nothing new here.” Later on, that changed to “This is a lot of stuff happening to them and they’re surviving.” In dealing with situations that wouldn’t have happened if they had simply stayed at home that weekend, they grew — albeit subtly, in my estimation.

The Verdict

I enjoyed Stand By Me much more than other films that consist of remembering an experience with childhood friends.  The characters were very relatable and believable, the acting superb and the emotions so much more than real.  I’m not sure when I’ll watch this next, but I’m sure I’ll love it even more the second time around.

Also, random note — I loved that John Cusack and Kiefer Sutherland were in this film. I’d had no idea that they had roles in it and it was a pleasant surprise to see them both. They rock.

Rotten Tomatoes: 91%
iTunes – 5 / 5
IMDB – 8.2 / 10
Toria – 4 / 5

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  1. Posted August 21, 2011 at 9:26 am | Permalink

    I concur, I enjoyed the film too, a lot better than 99% of the trash that Hollywood produces these days. It’s kind of weird seeing Wil Wheaton in a non geeky role.

    Have you seen Will Wheaton in a Diesel Sweeties? Here and here

    • Toria
      Posted August 21, 2011 at 11:20 am | Permalink

      No, I don’t even think I’ve heard of it, to be honest. Thanks for sparking my curiosity! 🙂

  2. Ben
    Posted August 22, 2011 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

    Excellent review, as always. You clearly saw Stand By Me as a character drama and I got the same thing from it.

    I would say that I found the narration to be effective for it’s purpose and I think it works to the movie’s benefit that it wasn’t overused. Other movies, like a Christmas Story, benefit more from constant narration because of the lighter subject matter, but Stand By Me really needed to tell the story through action and dialogue, so I view the narration as a way to tie the movie together as opposed to dominate it.

    To better explain, my lack of empathy for Chris probably comes from not fully understanding the struggles of living under the stigma of being the trouble-maker, since I grew up in a big city where you could easily distance yourself from these kinds of labels. In general, I didn’t identify with him as much as Gordie and Teddy and I found him to be one of the less likable characters in the film despite him showing his vulnerability. That’s just a personal observation, however I’ll go back and watch the movie with what you said in mind and perhaps I’ll see it differently now. But the Teddy character really stood out and I think he’s the highlight of the movie for me personally. This is probably because, as a kid, I was a lot like him in some ways.

    Overall, I love this movie and I have seen it many times over the years, and it’s always great to see first impressions and different interpretations from a like-minded movie fan. Keep up the awesome work.


    P.S. I still find the Barf-o-rama scene to be absolutely hilarious 🙂

    • Toria
      Posted August 22, 2011 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

      There’s a very fine line for me as far as narration goes. I don’t think I’ve seen many movies that I feel use the right amount of narration for what’s happening. I’m picky about the weirdest, most inconsequential things in movies; as with music in early films, it’s really easy to rub me the wrong way with narration.

      Before you watch it again, try imagining that everyone who knows you has based their opinion of you, which will last for at least ten or fifteen years, on the best and worst things you did when you were in kindergarten and the first grade. I won’t mention any specific incidents, but I can imagine which incident you’ll have in mind. 😛 And then imagine that no matter how much good you do to counteract that bad thing, people will always remember it and judge you for it. That’s essentially how Chris feels about the time he stole whoever’s lunch money and had that stolen from him, knowing that no one would believe him, no matter what he did.

      Anywho, glad you liked it, and thanks as always for your comment!

      P.S. I enjoy the fact that you end your reviews with post-scripts. 😀

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