100 Greatest Movies Month: Stand By Me (1986) Review

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This month we review a selection of movies from Empire’s 100 Greatest Movies list. Today is Number 100: Stand By Me.

There is something amazingly familiar about Stand By Me. It is a movie that manages to capture almost everyone’s childhood even if none of the events relate to anything anyone has actually done. The fact that these four boys are going to see a dead body is not actually the point of the movie. The point is that within these four boys each person can see themselves or at least someone they knew from their own childhood and from that point you are hooked.

That is the simplicity of Stand By Me. It isn’t a movie of grand moments or key scenes. There is (arguably) one major set-piece where your heart is in your mouth the whole time and the a (sort of) grand finale but it is just watching these boys struggling on their minor journey which keeps you invested.

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The film follows four, well-rounded central characters

It is a testament to Stand By Me that the four boys are all completely different without being stereotypes. Wil Wheaton is the grieving dreamer, River Phoenix is the “bad boy” trying to out-live his reputation, Corey Feldman is the slightly unhinged kid with daddy issues and Jerry O’Connell is Vern, who just wants to be as impressive as his four friends. This film doesn’t feel like it belongs to just one kid and all the kids feel like well-rounded, complete characters that you could meet, have been to school with or even were when you were twelve.

It takes no time at all to establish these characters and the chemistry between them means that you feel like the fifth member of the group as you watch them sing, fight, cry and run for their lives from dogs or trains. This is why it doesn’t matter that Stand By Me is a film of very little consequence because the characters are so likeable that you could watch them hang out for two hours and still be wholly entertained.

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A film where nothing much happens but it doesn’t have to

Luckily plenty does happen in Stand By Me. From trains on bridges, leech-infested lakes and a daring run across a scrap-yard, this is a film about kids getting into scrapes that feel huge even if they are fairly inconsequential. It captures the spirit of being a kid perfectly.

Which is also why the finale works so well. A dead body, a group of terrifying bullies (including Kiefer Sutherland during his sinister phase) and a gun is all it takes for you to feel like the film is peaking. It is the perfect ending to the movie and makes these characters feel huge with just a small gesture.

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There are some key set-pieces

There is also a heartbreaking conclusion to the movie and as Richard Dreyfuss narrates the outcome of each character and you watch River Phoenix fade out, you can’t help but feel a tinge of real-life sadness. Particularly because even in it’s ending, Stand By Me manages to feel as realistic as ever with the parting line “I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anyone?”

Overall, Stand By Me deserves it’s place in Greatest Movies lists as it captures childhood, adventure and being part of your own story perfectly. It has well-rounded characters, a great story and a finale that rings true for almost everyone.

Rating – 5!

(1 – AWFUL, 2 – AVERAGE, 3 – GOOD, 4 – GREAT, 5! – MUST SEE)

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A classic!

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One thought on “100 Greatest Movies Month: Stand By Me (1986) Review

  1. Such a spectacular movie. I think I saw it for the first time when I was about their age, so it really resonated with me…despite being a girl. I like how movies/shows (like Stranger Things or It) try to recreate that sense of camaraderie that came so naturally in Stand by Me. While they come close, they just don’t get close enough in my opinion.

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