Stand by Me (1986)

I’m writing this review as promised because of the death threats I received last night after I posted my 140 character review.  I also watched the movie again before writing this.  If you didn’t read my Twitter review, this is what I said:

“Stand by Me (1986) Finally watched it. For a film that’s character driven, it utterly fails to develop feelings for them. Poorly done. 3/9” *

It’s taken me 25 years to finally watch this movie, but not for lack of trying.  I’ve probably started watching it over a dozen times, but I never got past the first few scenes.  It just never pulled me in.

Recently I was looking at my DVD collection and realized that I didn’t have this one.  It seemed like a no-brainer that I had to own it because everything I’d read or been told about it was that it is one of the greatest stories ever told on film.  Needless to say I got it, and I finally watched it.  I was looking forward to good time.

First, a little trivia.  The movie takes place in a small town called Castle Rock which happens to be the name of the production company subsequently co-founded by Rob Reiner, the movie’s director.


As for the movie, I was incredibly disappointed because  I just didn’t care about any of the characters.  Maybe I would have felt differently if I had seen the film when I was younger, but I don’t think so.  I can endlessly watch films that develop honest emotions for their characters without changing how I feel about them.  Stand by Me isn’t one of those films.  And don’t think I’m a hard-ass or something… I’m a softy.  If there’s a feeling to be had for a character, I’ll feel it.  I’ll bet I cry more easily than John Boehner.  I even cried at the end of Sucker Punch (and I didn’t like the movie).

Stand by Me has the elements of a great movie with emotional impact, but the acting was sub-par and the character development was weak.  If I really knew how to properly develop a character I’d be making movies, but I know it when I see it.  I didn’t see it here, and that’s the rub.  The film gave me  a lot of second-hand information about the characters, but I saw very little of it.  Just knowing a character’s back-story is not the same as seeing it.

Should I feel something for Gordie because his father wouldn’t pass him the mashed potatoes or didn’t like his friends?   I understand that his dad liked his brother better, but nothing made care about it.  Considering the endless possibilities, if showing his father ignoring him at the dinner table is all you can come up with, you failed.  It’s not like it’s a new concept or something.

Corey Feldman’s character is a seriously troubled kid, but his actions and his acting were inconsistent.  Worse yet, we have to be told with narration** about his inexplicable love for his abusive father because it’s not made clear by anything we are shown.  Even then we have no idea why.  He just comes off like a kid who’s out of control.  I’d bet many screen writers would love to have a page or two to flesh out his character and show us why he is the way he is.  Another opportunity lost.  Click here to see a relevant video.

Jerry O’Connell was pretty good, but his character was not much more than comic relief and had little or no impact on the movie as a whole.

River Phoenix was clearly the best actor of the bunch, and frankly the only believable emotional connection in the movie was his love for Gordie.  His character was the one most likely to garner some “feelings,” but again, it was pretty weak.  All talk – no action.  And “boo hoo,” against all odds he studied hard in school and ultimately became a lawyer… but because of the type of guy he was he was stabbed and killed trying to break up a fight between some guys he didn’t even know.  Talk about a contrivance, it’s the very definition of it.

Stand by Me is only 89 minutes long.  Maybe if it were 101 minutes like The Sandlot (1993) it would have been better.  I don’t know, but I do know that the difference between the two movies is like night and day.  The Sandlot is a movie about kids told in a very similar fashion to Stand by Me, but it deserves every bit of the 8/9 rating I gave it.  You’ll feel something for every character because you’ll live it, you’re not just told about it.   Another film to see if you want to feel something for a group of kids who are best friends is Sleepers (1996).

The point is the makers of Stand by Me dropped the ball when it came to developing feelings for some promising characters.  The potential was certainly there.  I know my rating is harsh, but nothing about this movie would make me want me to see it again or recommend it to someone.  Like I said, I just didn’t care.


* I recognize that about 95% of those who saw this movie loved it.  I watched it a few more times and changed my rating to 5/9.  It’s OK, but still highly over-rated.

** This is what Robert McKee said about it in Adaptation (2002):  “…and God help you if you use voice-over in your work, my friends. God help you. That’s flaccid, sloppy writing. Any idiot can write a voice-over narration to explain the thoughts of a character.”

4 Responses to “Stand by Me (1986)”

  1. snobbyfilmguy Says:

    Something you may have missed out on: I felt something for the characters despite everything you mentioned because I remember myself at that age and saw me and myself in them. Each one of them made up ME! That’s why I felt something for them.

  2. Hal Duncan Says:

    I feel the same way as snobbyfilmguy. I have always considered this film great, mainly because I was that age when it was released and therefore have always classified it as somewhat of a kids movie. It’s the only film I saw growing up that took that age seriously, and I always wanted to see more “grown-up” themed films aimed at young audiences. I am a huge advocate for character development, I think it is the most important element of a screenplay and I have to respectfully disagree in the assessment of the kids featured here. But I do wonder if I would feel the same way if I saw this movie for the first time as an adult. I think I’ll revisit it.

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