I've always liked a good "coming of age" movie, ranging anywhere from a fun adventure like 'The Goonies' to a high school stoner comedy like 'Dazed & Confused'. But it all started with 'Stand by Me', which I actually first saw at a time when I would have been a few years younger than the four lead actors here. I can't remember in full detail how this worked out, but odds are, it was edited for TV when I saw it at the time. But I do remember that after my first go-through of it, it disturbed me enough that if my big bro wanted to watch it, I'd leave the room.
Ever since I was around the age of 16 or 17 and finally started dabbling in things like horror, however, I came back to this and saw it in a whole new light. While the "coming of age" genre was one I appreciated at the time with some more innocent titles, I was able to recognize why it was this movie disturbed me. Put simply, these were kids just a little older than me the first time I saw it, and it put this idea in my head that one day I'd be exposed to all the horrible stuff these kids were exposed to. This is NOT a scary movie by any means, but when you look at everything it involves, it is super heavy for a kid. It was just too much for me back then.
These heavy details aren't just limited to its central plot, either. This put images in my head that included these kids firing a gun, outrunning a train, emerging from a pond full of leeches (that one really stuck with me), and a story about a guy who creates barfing mayhem (which was really just gross, but still). To top it all off, it all surrounds the idea that these four kids are setting out to try to find the dead body of a kid their age. There were even things that haunted me that I didn't understand, like the idea of your parents potentially hating you when I came from such a loving home. And the bullies? I've been afraid of the concept of bullies since seeing this. And Steven King bullies are particularly harsh.
This one is based on the Stephen King novella 'The Body', which can be found in 'Different Seasons' along with 'The Shawshank Redemption' and 'Apt Pupil'. Directed by Rob Reiner, it provides us with one of the "higher-ups" when it comes to Steven King adaptations. Taking place in the 50s, yet having its themes be timeless, this is a good way to see the darker side of childhood that other movies don't cover quite the same way. Between this and 'It', Steven King wrote kids really well in the way that they can behave. We often swore in ways that would make a sailor blush, we often told dirty jokes, we got into trouble, etc.
The kids in question here include Gordy Lachance (Wil Wheaton), who's narrating the story in the voice of Richard Dreyfuss; Chris Chambers (River Phoenix), the leader of the gang, and the one seen as the "bad influence"; Teddy Duchamp (Corey Feldman), the loose cannon type who's also a bit of a jokester; and Vern Tessio (Jerry O'Connell), the gang's weak link, but also the one who tells the rest about the Dead Body of Ray Brower. Ray was a kid around their age whose body went missing one day, and due to overhearing a conversation, Vern figures out where the body might be.
The four 12-year-olds with the info on the Brower body decide to sneak away from their respective homes in the interest of finding the body and potentially becoming locally famous. As they go on their journey, they encounter a few obstacles along the way as one would expect. None of these obstacles are worse, however, than the Steven King bullies here; Ace Merrill (Kiefer Sutherland); Chris' big brother, Eyeball Chambers (Bradley Gregg); Vern's big brother, Billy Tessio (Casey Siemaszko); and Charlie Hogan (Gary Riley) who also know about the body, have the same idea and will be much harsher on their tactics to claim the fame.
Steven King always seems to make bullies over the top, and three of the four bullies here are actually pretty funny to watch at times. Unlike 'It', they do come with a certain dose of comedy. But then Kiefer ends up being so good in this role that he balances it all out with his serious but nonchalant attitude. You'd have no problem at all believing he has the potential to actually use his switchblade (every Steven King bully has one). In fact, in an interview with Jerry O'Connell, he admits that he found Kiefer quite terrifying. For as much as we know him nowadays as a sort of hero, the way he does villain is something to be admired here.
As I mentioned earlier, this is actually something that gets deep, and it's very interesting to see as an adult. A lot of this is about realizing what it is kids might be going through in their personal life, behind closed doors. The most exposure we get is from Gordie's parents (Marshall Bell and Frances Lee McCain) who basically treat Gordie like he doesn't exist. But we also understand through dialogue that Teddy has an abusive father who he still respects because he was involved in the Normandy Invasion, and Chris has to deal with a life of being profiled just because of his tarnished name, thanks to his brother Eyeball.
The film does have a sense of humour and a few good laugh-out-loud moments, but the majority of this is about the friendship between these four kids, the problems they face at that age, and even discovering the concept of their own mortality. It's deep and it's dark, but it's also kind of beautifully done, capturing the 50s with its environments and amazing oldies soundtrack (oldies to someone born in '82, anyway). This will be one I'll recommend to people for ages to come, but I'd also recommend tying to remember when you were 12 and the way you thought about the world back then. Try your best to relate to these kids, and I really think you can get a lot out of this.