Stand By Me
River Phoenix, Wil Wheaton, Corey Feldman, Jerry O'Connell, Kiefer Sutherland
Director: Rob Reiner
It's doubtful a film like this would get made today. Almost three decades on and the world is a vastly different place - especially the constantly shifting ground occupied by adolescents - and rapid advances in technology have made young people grow up faster than they should in the post-9/11 era.
Themes that were once the reserve of jaded adults are now fodder for everyone. A certain innocence has been lost, and the playful nature of the main characters in Rob Reiner's classic would be lost on today's youth. "It's just too childish!" they may say.
And this is what Stand By Me is really all about: boys becoming men and entering a world far removed from long, bucolic summers of riding bikes, eating Tootsie Rolls and playing in treehouses. With a rumour going around that there is a dead body in the woods near the railway track, the four best friends set off to make heroes of themselves, and in the process leave behind the naiveté of their early teens.
But the film doesn't begin with whimsical play. Richard Dreyfuss narrates as an older version of the main protagonist, Gordie Lachance (played by Wil Wheaton), some 30 years after the events take place. He is sitting alone in his truck, having just found out that his old buddy Chris Chambers (River Phoenix) has been murdered in a random attack. The friend who looked to be going nowhere, fast, became a successful lawyer, and was then cruelly struck down in his prime.
The gang - which also includes butt-of-all-jokes Jerry O'Connell as Vern Tessio and Corey Feldman as the wise-cracking, bespectacled Teddy Duchamp - find mutual support in their friendship, as an antidote to their difficult home lives. Teddy has a violent, alcoholic father while Chris' is a career criminal. Danny is suffering from the recent loss of his older brother and is shunned by his parents. With this adventure acting as a respite from the depressing realities of home life, they set off to find the body, and along the way they face guard dogs, leeches and the local gang led by the sadistic "Ace" (Kiefer Sutherland).
But there is something in the lack of cynicism in the four characters' temperaments that is far removed from the way youngsters in the West behave in the millennium. After all, this film is set during one hot summer in the late 50s, an innocent time before the "loosening of morals" in the '60s. And here we have a good old-fashioned kids' adventure in the vein of The Famous Five, albeit with an underlying sense of what serious issues the children will have to face when they grow up.