Based on the short story The Body by Stephen King -
When you think about the Eighties, the film, at least for me, that defined the decade that was, was Stand By Me. Of course, there were tons of great movies (Goonies, Gremlins, Back To The Future, etc, etc,) but, as far as storytelling, the script, the acting, and that it was based on a story by Stephen King, this is the movie that showed us that story and character are the most important parts of the movie, everything else is secondary.
I say the defining film of the eighties for several reasons.
1. Using kids to move the story along, while nothing really bad happens to them, there is an underlying fear in the kids themselves that when this adventure is over, they're going to return to their dysfunctional, abusive lives and this is a moment, in time, that they can be themselves, talk the way they want, smoke, drink, and create shenanigans. What true friends do when they're off on their own, having adventures.
2. Corey Feldman, Keifer Sutherland, Wil Wheaton, Jerry O'Connell, and River Phoenix create believable characters that we ALL identify with. We laugh with them, cry with them, feel their terror when confronted by Keifer and his band of thugs (which also includes one of the characters brothers) and of course, the scene where the kids are running from the junkyard dog, as the crotchety old man yells "Chopper, sick 'em boy" and we get the voice over telling us that he heard "Chopper, sick balls", we feel that adrenaline rush, we want those kids to make it to the fence, safe or not, maybe they do get bit, but we don't want them to be injured, just scared.
3. The anticipation. Those little moments where we follow the kids on their journey, as they camp out, telling the story about the fat kid drinking castor oil at the County Fair, right before the pie eating contest and puking. Running from the train and all the stops along the way before we get to the final destination. Most of us that have seen the movie didn't care about the body, we enjoyed the journey.
There are several more reasons, but when you have a movie that feeds you great scene after great scene and leaves you wanting more, then the director (and the rest of the crew) have done their job. It's one of the few Stephen King stories that have successfully been transcribed for the big screen. Using Richard Dreyfuss as the "voice" of Gordie, the main character (Played by Wil Wheaton), was a great way to give us a back story, without having to take away from the main story. Now in the book it plays out quite differently for most of the kids, except Gordie, that idea was the same from the book to the movie. Both the movie and the book still have tragic, unexpected endings, again, not following along with Hollywood convention by taking the easy route and giving us a happy go lucky, everyone is successful in life, hooray ending.
Having Rob Reiner make a movie about kids, set in the late 50's, going on a weekend trip to find a body, on paper sounds kinda boring. You would expect the studio to intervene and screw it up, usually adding in a sequence where they deal with unrealistic children's issues, like not getting money for bubble gum or their best friend asking out a girl they liked. This movie puts these kids into adult situations and gives us a realistic look at how kids deal with adult situations in the best way they know how. Even to the point where Gordie (Wil Wheaton) has to pull out a gun to keep Keifer Sutherland's character from getting what he wants.
You can see that confrontation coming, but the way the actors handled it was perfect, watching their faces as the scene unfolds, Gordie standing his ground. But the look on Wheaton's face, that he doesn't want to pull the gun unless he really has to, makes the entire scene. Then it happens and the tensions rise and builds to this climax, where everyone involved finally gets their heads straight and that there is no win-win in this situation.
Stand By Me is by far, one of my favorite coming-of-age movies. Rob Reiner is a master at getting the best out of his actors and he really understands the art of making the complex, simple. He doesn't need to use complicated angles, worthless shots and of course characters that don't move the story forward. It's all stripped down to its basics, giving the viewer all the information they need about the characters, without bogging us down with over explaining the plot.
Stand by Me (1986)
R | 1h 29min | Adventure, Drama | 22 August 1986 (USA)
After the death of a friend, a writer recounts a boyhood journey to find the body of a missing boy.
Director: Rob Reiner
Writers: Stephen King (novel), Raynold Gideon (screenplay)
Stars: Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Corey Feldman