The coming-of-age film is a genre that seems fit for cheap television movies.
Give us a child and an obstacle that needs to be overcome in which he or she finds out more about life and yes, we have the coming-of-age film.
The best movie of all time in this genre, at least to me, is ‘The Breakfast Club’ which absolutely nailed highschool. However, before entering highschool you have to survive preschool, and ‘Stand By Me’ is the movie that will forever stand the test of time as one of the best efforts to nail this particularly noteworthy time of everybody’s life.
When Rob Reiner set out to make this film based on the Stephen King novella ‘The Body’ he had just finished shooting ‘The Sure Thing’ which featured John Cusack in his first major movie role. When he got his cast together, which featured Corey Feldman, Jerry O’Connell, Will Wheaton and the late River Phoenix, he didn’t know he had such powerful chemistry in his directorial hands.
From the moment we meet the gang in the tree house it’s evident that we are just a simple witness to a few young kids going out on an adventure. That adventure is just the basis under which the films bigger themes lie. They all have a troubled youth with the exception of Vern who is overweight and gets picked on because of it, but has a fairly stable situation back home. River Phoenix’s character called Chris has an alcoholic dad, Gordie (Will Wheaton) has lost his big brother (played, not co-incidently by John Cusack) and Teddy (Corey Feldman) has a dad who is mentally ill.
When reading this little list you’d be forgiven for expecting a very cliched tearjerker of a movie, but it’s never about those trivial things. When they venture out to look for the kid who supposedly got hit and killed by a train in the nearby forest, it’s never about those problems or about the elderly gang led by a young Kiefer Sutherland.
It’s about their friendship and the way they are perceived by their parents.
Their characters are so layered and believable that you quickly forget you’re watching a movie and you feel part of their lives. Chris, who I believe is the most profound member of the group, portrays a vulnerability that’s rarely seen in characters these days.
In a pivotal scene of the movie we see him break down and explain to his friend that he is suffering from a stigma that has been put on him by the people who know his family’s wrongdoings.
Before that happens we see him save Teddy from a stupid stunt to dodge a train and convincing Gordie to pursue his dream to be a writer and forget about his father’s dismissal of him.
When the movie reaches its end after a short 90 or so minutes, we get Richard Dreyfuss telling us (as the old Gordie) what happened to all the kids.
It’s a depressing ending, but ultimately it’s realistic, we fantasize and grow up to learn that life is sometimes too much of a force to overcome, we try to deny it and end up forgetting about our youth and the dreams that we once had.
Chris didn’t tell Gordie to chase his dreams, he told us.