A sleeper hit when released in 1986, Stand by Me is based on Stephen King's novella "The Body" (from the book Different Seasons); but it's more about the joys and pains of boyhood friendship than a morbid fascination with corpses. It's about four boys ages 12 and 13 (Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Corey Feldman, Jerry O'Connell) who take an overnight hike through the woods near their Oregon town to find the body of a boy who's been missing for days. Their journey includes a variety of scary adventures (including a ferocious junkyard dog, a swamp full of leeches, and a treacherous leap from a train trestle), but it's also a time for personal revelations, quiet interludes, and the raucous comradeship of best friends. Set in the 1950s, the movie indulges an overabundance of anachronistic profanity and a kind of idealistic, golden-toned nostalgia (it's told in flashback as a story written by Wheaton's character as an adult, played by Richard Dreyfuss). But it's delightfully entertaining from start to finish, thanks to the rapport among its young cast members and the timeless, universal themes of friendship, family, and the building of character and self-esteem. Kiefer Sutherland makes a memorable teenage villain, and look closely for John Cusack in a flashback scene as Wheaton's now-deceased and dearly missed brother.
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