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Monday, July 18, 2011

Monday Matinee Double Feature: Stand By Me & Now And Then

I have a special treat for all of you blog readers out there.  For the first time since I started off this blog (and quite possibly one of the only times that I will ever do this), I am featuring two movies in the Monday Matinee entry.


To tell you the truth, I wanted to feature each of these movies separately, but the more I looked at them both, the more they sounded like the same movie plotline.  There are definitely some major differences between the two movies, this is true.  One movie has four teenage boys as the main stars, while the other features four teenage girls.  One is set in the late 1950's, while the other is set in 1970.  One takes place in Oregon, the other one in Indiana.  Finally, while both of these movies feature the stars going on an adventure, each one is different, and has its own twists and turns that make both movies interesting to watch.

They are two of the best examples of 'coming of age' movies that I can come across at the spur of the moment, and part of it has to do with the rich character development and the wonderful plot devices that both films use.

These two films are "Stand By Me" released in 1986, and "Now And Then", released in 1995.

We'll look at each film one at a time, and come up with conclusions about each one, and maybe along the way I can find out some things about myself in revisiting these two films.  Won't that be exciting?

Why don't we start off by going in chronological order, shall we?

Stand By Me was released in selected theatres on August 8, 1986, and two weeks later premiered nationwide.  The film's plot was taken from a novella written by famed author Stephen King back in 1982 entitled The Body.  Set around Labour Day weekend 1959 in the town of Castle Rock, Oregon, the movie features four friends who set out on an adventure to locate the body of a young boy named Ray Brower, who had died from being struck by a train.

Up above are the four boys who are the stars of the movie.  Going from left to right, you have Teddy Duchamp (Corey Feldman), Vern Tessio (Jerry O'Connell), Chris Chambers (River Phoenix), and Gordie Lachance (Wil Wheaton).

As it so happens, the story is narrated by an adult Gordie Lachance (whose adult version was played by Richard Dreyfuss), who is writing the memoirs of his youth experience, which includes the search for the body, and the dangers they faced along the way, including outrunning a train on a bridge, falling into a swamp filled with leeches, and once they find the body, defending himself and the rest of the boys from Ace Merrill (played by Kiefer Sutherland) when he tries to take the body.

It sounds like quite a busy movie with an unbelievable plot, but it really was one of those movies that really tugged at the heartstrings for a lot of people who watched the movie. 

The reason why is because the film (and for that matter, Stephen King who wrote the novella) really fleshed out the characters and made them so memorable.  It was like you could identify with at least one, if not ALL of the boys.

Let's start off with the narrator of the movie.

Gordie for some reason was always my favourite character in the whole film.  Gordie was probably the boy that I was most like as a kid.  Quiet, studious, loved to write and tell stories.  Uh-huh, that was me in a nutshell.  Hell, that is me in a nutshell.  I guess that's why I probably identify with him so much, because he and I were quite similar in nature.  In fact, I think I actually owned the same shirt he's wearing in the above picture.  There is one major difference between him and I, and that was his family life.  After the tragic death of his brother Denny, who Gordie was close to, he had zero relationship with his father.  In actuality, his parents never really paid much attention to him anyway, but after Denny's death, his father chose to ignore him.  Gordie narrates the whole tale as an adult. 

Along the course of the movie, there are several key events that seem to define Gordie.  During a camp-out, Gordie entertains the other boys with a story (which includes the infamous puke scene), which confirms the idea that he's a born storyteller.  During their encounter with the leech scene, he actually passes out cold when he yanks one out from inside his underwear (though I admit if I found a leech in my shorts, I'd probably pass out myself).  This incident causes the boys to rethink their plan to find the dead body, but Gordie makes the decision to press ahead because they've come too far to give up now.  Once they locate the dead body, it is a gruesome reminder for Gordie that his father loved Denny more than him.  This scene is where Ace pops up, and Gordie manages to scare him away with a handgun.

Where did Gordie get the handgun?  From his friend Chris.  Here's the scene below.

It's here that we move on to our next boy, Chris Chambers.  Despite the fact that he came from a long line of criminals and alcoholics, and despite the fact that he brought a GUN along with them, he claims that he's not like that.  In all actuality, Chris wanted to have a life away from the crime and the negative stigma that seemed to plague his family.  He even confided to Gordie that he hated being stereotyped because his descendants dabbled in criminal activity.  His greatest fear was not being able to make something of himself, and he wanted desperately to break out of that cycle.  Hoo-boy, can I relate to that one!!!  In the end, Chris did manage to get out of the cycle, and managed to build a success out of himself, but his ultimate fate is one that seemed so cruel that...well, you'll have to watch the movie and read the book to find out.

The other two boys didn't seem to have as much of a storyline as Chris and Gordie did, but I can still find things about both of them that stand out.  Teddy for example came from a really abusive childhood.  It was bad enough that he had poor eyesight and had to wear glasses, but he also had to wear a hearing aid.  It was due to the fact that his father had burned his ear by holding it next to a hot stove, and as a result, his hearing was permanently damaged, and he was physically scarred.  He also had emotional wounds from the abuse he suffered, and as a result of the combination of physical and emotional trauma, his future didn't end up so bright.  As for Vern, he was a lot like me physically.  He was the overweight, timid kid, who was often the butt of jokes.  Yeah, can't imagine why I could relate to that one. 

Ultimately though, it didn't matter what backgrounds each of the four boys came from.  They were friends, and they had a really great adventure where they discovered more than a dead body.  They found themselves along the way, and while it either helped or hindered them, it was one summer they will never forget.  I think Gordie summed it up best looking back on it when he said "I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anybody?"

I think this quote is the one that will serve as the transitionary moment where we switch from one movie to another.

While Stand By Me dealt with teenage boys coming to age, the movie Now And Then centered around four teenage girls.  The movie, which was released on October 20, 1995, differed a little bit from Stand By Me.  Whereas in Stand By Me, we saw only Gordie all grown up, in this film, we see all four women as adults, both at the beginning and the end of the movie (although Demi Moore narrates all throughout the film).

Just like Stand By Me though, each of the four leads had their own distinct personalities, and during the summer of 1970, all four of them have life-changing revelations as they save up for a treehouse while embarking on an unsolved mystery.

Once again, we'll go from left to right in identifying the girls.  From the left, you have Tina "Teeny" Tercell (child actor Thora Birch, adult actor Melanie Griffith), a child of socialites who are never home who has ambitions of making it big in Hollywood as an adult (a dream that eventually comes true).  Next to her is Samantha Albertson (Gaby Hoffmann/Demi Moore), who narrates the film.  She is described as the token weird girl who has an obsession with seances, astronomy, and aliens, and whose family drama bothers her immensely, and ends up shaping the way she herself views relationships as an adult.  Then you have Chrissy DeWitt (Ashleigh Aston Moore/Rita Wilson), who could best be described as a sheltered young lady.  Her own mother was very overprotective, almost overwhelmingly.  It was like Chrissy would have been trapped inside a bubble if her mother had anything to say about it.  As a result, she was very awkward around boys, and her sexual education was very basic, if not non-existant.  She was responsible though, and did keep all the treehouse money safe.  As an adult, she is expecting her first child, which she gives birth to at the end of the movie.  Finally, you had Roberta Martin (Christina Ricci/Rosie O'Donnell), the only girl in her house after her mother died in a car accident.  She puts on a tough persona, and even tapes her chest to appear more tomboyish, but inside, she's still deeply hurt by her mother's death.  When we see her as an adult, she is a doctor who happens to be 'living in sin' with her boyfriend.

The basic plot of the film is that the girls want to buy a treehouse for them to have meetings in, and they save up the whole summer to buy it.  During this time, they try to avoid the Wormer brothers, who tease the girls every chance they get by throwing water balloons at them, and making all of the girls (especially Roberta) very angry.

At some point, the girls decide to head to the cemetery where they wish to perform a seance.  In fact, you can watch it here.  Don't worry, no scrolling necessary, it starts up almost immediately.

This seance kicks off the main plot of the movie...a mystery.  You may have seen the part where the lightning bolt strikes right behind the girls.  That lightning bolt cracked open a tombstone inside the graveyard.  The stone marked the grave of a young boy, who the girls affectionately called "Dear Johnny", and their mission is to find out who he was, and how he died, since he died when he was a child. 

The group tries searching for answers at a couple of libraries, but seemingly seem to come up short.  During one of these searches, Roberta comes across the article where it reports on her mother's fatal car accident, and she immediately copies the article and puts the photocopy in her pocket.  After this scene, Samantha discovers that Dear Johnny and his mother were killed in a tragic manner, but have no idea how as some pages have been ripped out.  Undeterred by this, the girls keep searching for the truth.

I'm going to stop right here to talk about the friendships within the friendships, which is one reason why I felt this movie worked really well.  All four girls were really close with each other, but there were two distinct groups that really seemed to bond.

One was Chrissy and Roberta, which seemed like an odd match, as Roberta was tough as nails, while Chrissy was as harmful as marshmallow fluff.  They worked well together though.  For instance, when the girls went for a swim, Roberta jumped in the lake and pretended to drown, which freaked the other girls out, especially Chrissy.  Chrissy gave Roberta mouth to mouth, but when Roberta confessed her trick, Chrissy punched her out!  Chrissy admitted to Roberta that she was her best friend, and didn't want to see her die.  Roberta's fascination with death likely stemmed from the fact that she had lost her mother at an early age, so it kind of made sense why she would pretend it was a game of sorts.  Needless to say, Roberta promised Chrissy that she would never do it again.  As adults, Roberta was the one who delivered Chrissy's baby, cementing their strong bond as adults.

On the other side, you had Samantha and Teeny growing closer.  When Samantha found out that her parents were divorcing, it was a big deal to her.  Keep in mind that back in 1970, divorce was still considered very much a taboo subject to talk about.  It was something that people just didn't do.  So, when Samantha confided to Teeny about her fears of not having a normal family, Teeny comforted her by saying that no family is ever normal.  Teeny was there for her through her fears and to help Samantha feel better, she divided a bracelet she was wearing in half and gave one part of it to Samantha as a token of friendship.  Ot was a simple gesture that Samantha really seemed to appreciate.

On their way home, Samantha loses her bracelet and when she and Teeny stop to look for it, they discover it in a storm drain, where Samantha crawls inside to retrieve it.  It's where we see one of the more emotional moments of the whole movie.

Now, unbeknownst to Samantha and Teeny, the introduction of Crazy Pete and how he ended up saving Samantha's life is a key part in guiding the girls to a nice little conclusion to the Dear Johnny mystery.  The girls find out what really happened to Dear Johnny and have one final meeting in the cemetery to pay their respects to the deceased.  Outside of the cemetery, Samantha runs into Crazy Pete one final time, and with that meeting holds the last piece of the puzzle together, but since I don't like spoiling everything about movies, you're just going to have to find the answer yourself by watching the movie.

That is quite a lot to digest, isn't it?  These two movies are definitely worth checking out though.  Both of them are as I said before, the perfect coming of age movies to watch.  The characters are so incredibly powerful, and you can really feel for all of them and the trials they had to endure.  The plots for both were outstanding, and it is always a moving experience seeing the moments that bond people together and help shape them into adults.

I've been fortunate to have had re-established connections with a few of my old classmates back when I was twelve and thirteen (the age that all the characters were supposed to be in the films), and I'm happy to report that we're still very close today as we were way back in 1993.  It truly is a remarkable feeling to have known someone for all those years and still get along today.  How we all grew up together to become the people we are now.

It's a beautiful feeling.

On a sad note, there is one more similarity that both films share.  Both of the films have had one of the young stars pass away.  River Phoenix of Stand By Me died in 1993, while Ashleigh Aston Moore lost her life in 2007.  Through these two films though, they do live on. 

I'd better end this blog entry before I get really choked up here...below is the 1995 song 'Now And Then', performed by former Bangle Susanna Hoffs.  Enjoy!

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