This review is of the TV-14 edited version of the film. All thoughts below should be addressed as such as a review of the unedited version would be more negative
Stand by Me is one of those films where I can’t say that I had high hopes for it from the jump. It’s a movie about a bunch of kids having a journey and that’s not the most interesting premise. I prefer the main characters to be a little bit older which always makes the banter and dialogue more fun. Throw in the fact that they’re in a fairly mean world and none of the kids are that likable and you have a recipe for disaster.
The movie kicks off with a kid dying so Gordie and his friends want to see the body. It’s a rather odd objective but for them nothing ever happens in this town so it’s the only thing they can do to get some excitement out of the day. The body is supposed to just be a few miles away from where they are at so the 4 kids (Gordie, Chris, Teddy, and Vern) all head out. It will be a tough journey though and they don’t have much food so they really need to move quickly. That doesn’t stop them from having their share of fights and disagreements though. They just really want to make it all the way to the goal and so they will keep moving forward.
Perhaps with a better goal the journey would be more fun. Like if they all wanted to go to some kind of tournament or try out a pizza place. But running around to look at a dead body? It’s even worse that it’s another kid since no matter how the kid died that is rather tragic. It’s hard to get all that invested into the mission that the 4 boys have as a result. Do you even want them to succeed?
Then you have the fact that the world seems rather mean spirited. Just about everyone they run into is either an antagonist or just generally upset. The guy they run into at the car factory at least has some reason for this since they are the ones trespassing. They have fun making fun of him and his dog but then can’t take it when he starts hurling insults. Teddy in particular can’t take it as he gets upset when the guy insults his father. You really shouldn’t be hurling insults and acting like a delinquent if you can’t take it when the tables are turned.
Then you have the bullies who show up to make life tough on the main characters. They don’t have much of a grand mission beyond causing trouble and only seem to show interest in finding the body as well while they were there. It’s fortunate that the kids had some equipment because things could have really gone badly for them otherwise. These bullies seemed quite serious about possibly murdering these kids. At the very least you don’t doubt that they would do it.
To break away from the nonstop dangers we do get a quick story sequence about a kid who was teased for being overweight. It’s a story being told so you know it’s fake but we actually get to see it play out in real time. Basically the kid gets his revenge by having everyone start throwing up. It’s a rather gross scene to be honest and I would have cut out the story as well. Even if it was a lighter moment to try and keep the tone from being too down in the dumps, I wouldn’t say it was a good story so that limited how effective it could be.
As for the main kids, I wasn’t a big fan of any of them as I mentioned earlier. Teddy is always causing trouble and can’t really be trusted on the journey. He nearly caused all of the kid to die by deciding to play chicken with a train. It was a really dumb move. Then Vern is always getting picked on by Teddy and I wonder how the 4 of them are even friends anyway. It gets a bit mean spirited with how hard they ride the poor guy. You can have solid banter within a group without getting mean spirited but part of the problem is that the shots were always directed at Vern so it didn’t feel very balanced. If I was him then I would have definitely left a while back.
As for Gordie, he has less to do than the other characters as the true main character who gets the narration but he was okay I suppose. He did less to make him unlikable at least. Then there is Chris who is the most mature of the 4 main characters so at least he is doing his best in keeping everyone alive. Naturally that means that things don’t go so well for him in the epilogue and that’s a shame because he should have had the best ending of the group. In general the film’s ending isn’t very satisfying at all. Part of the point of the film is probably that it’s not supposed to be satisfying since part of the journey is knowing that completing it won’t change anything.
At the same time, intentional or not if an ending is not satisfying then it’s not a good ending. There just isn’t any point in the film where you get invested in what is going on. I don’t think this is a film that I would be able to finish on my own and that’s why it’s got a very low score here. With no hook or likable characters to root for then it was really doomed right out of the gate. I would stand by my theory that the film would be significantly better if the characters were grown up. A bunch of adults running around on an adventure is something that can and has worked for generations. There’s a whole lot that you can do with that and the story would naturally be more focused and interesting. Sure you still need good writing to execute on this premise but I would be confident that the movie could do it.
Overall, Stand by Me is a film that I would definitely recommend skipping. It just doesn’t work on an emotional level which is half of the film right there. Since you don’t care about the characters or the journey then there just isn’t much left for you by that point. This ends up just being a boring movie which is ultimately a really bad thing for it. If you want to see a solid coming of age story about a kid needing to come to terms with the future then watch Big Hero 6 instead. There the hero has to move on from the past but it’s done in a more engaging way.