Picks and Pans Review: Stand by Me

UPDATED 09/01/1986 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 09/01/1986 at 01:00 AM EDT

Though this movie is based on a novella, The Body, by scaremeister Stephen King, it's not another one of his chillers. Filled with childhood nostalgia about such pastimes as hanging out in tree houses, it's more like a Norman Rockwell painting. The film, directed by Rob (The Sure Thing) Reiner, opens with narrator Richard Dreyfuss, in a cameo as a successful writer, reflecting on the recent death of one of his boyhood friends and the first time he saw a corpse when he was 12. The rest of the film is a flashback to that summer of 1959. His memory takes him—in the form of Wil (The Buddy System) Wheaton, 15—on a trip through the scenic Oregon countryside, beautifully captured by cinematographer Thomas (The Breakfast Club) Del Ruth. The scenes are punctuated with an evocative sound track full of such oldies as the Monotones' 1958 hit, Book of Love. Wheaton and the three kids who join him on the trip constantly trade wisecracks; Dreyfuss points out that "finding new and preferably disgusting ways to describe a friend's mother was always held in high regard." There's an antagonistic relationship between Wheaton and his jock father, played by Marshall Bell. (Reiner has acknowledged strengthening this part of the story by basing it on his own youth as the son of actor-director Carl Reiner.) Wheaton's pals have their own problems at home, and they all touchingly seek refuge and reassurance in one another. By the end of the movie, when Ben E. King's rousing 1961 title song kicks in and Dreyfuss laments that he's never had friends like the ones he had when he was 12, it's hard to resist joining him in pining for those exhilarating, if not always carefree, summer days. (R)

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