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Five Beloved Yet Deeply Disturbing Coming-of-Age Films
Stand By Me's twenty-fifth anniversary has us reminiscing about some unsettling classics.
By EJ Dickson
1. Stand By Me
Rob Reiner's coming-of-age classic Stand By Me celebrates its twenty-fifth anniversary next Monday. It's much loved for its depiction of the innocence of childhood, the bittersweet pangs of adolescence, and the enduring bonds of friendship. But it's undeniably much darker than your average coming-of-age movie: as the four go their separate ways, torn apart by the divisive forces of the middle-school caste system, Richard Dreyfuss's narration reveals their tragic fates, leaving the cockles of your heart feeling less warmed than ripped out, torn up, and shit upon. As in many other similarly themed films, the message of Stand By Me seems to be that growing up sucks, but what happens afterwards sucks even harder, which is kind of a grim message for a childhood classic. Here are four other coming-of-age films with remarkably bleak subtexts.
2. Sixteen Candles
IMDB synopsis: A young girl's (Molly Ringwald) "sweet sixteen" becomes anything but sweet as she suffers from every embarrassment possible.
What it should say: A young girl's (Molly Ringwald) "sweet sixteen" becomes anything but sweet as she falls prey to a kindly date rapist.
Why it's disturbing: Although the lasting popularity of John Hughes' breakthrough film owes a lot to its adorable leading lady, part of its reputation can be attributed to the eternal nice-guy appeal of love interest Jake Ryan (Michael Schoeffling). With his '80s gay-porn-star physique and innocuous, golden-retriever grin, Ryan exemplifies Reagan-era masculinity, to the point that the Washington Post ran an editorial on the twentieth anniversary of the film entitled "Real Men Can't Hold a Candle to Jake Ryan." With all due respect to the Post, that's probably for the best, because by the end of the movie, Jake Ryan turns out to be an unbelievable asshole. After confiding in a geeky underclassman (Anthony Michael Hall) that he's attracted to Sam (Ringwald), Jake allows the freshman to drive his inebriated, barely conscious girlfriend home and have his way with her. Jake then uses his girlfriend's "infidelity," for which she was unable to supply consent, as an excuse to break up with her and hook up with Sam..
Ostensible message: Growing up is tough, but you'll always remember your first love.
Actual message: Growing up is tough, but if you're lucky, you might end up being deflowered by a panty-sniffing rape conspirator with perfect bone structure.
IMDB synopsis: When Josh Baskin (Tom Hanks) wishes to be big at a magic wish machine, he wakes up the next morning and finds himself in an adult body.
What it should say: When Josh Baskin (Tom Hanks) wishes to be big at a magic wish machine, he wakes up the next morning and finds himself in an adult body, resulting in his statutory rape by a much older woman.
Why it's disturbing: While the presumed psychological duress of aging twenty years overnight might qualify the film as fucked-up, the narrative gets even stranger when Josh has sex with Susan (Elizabeth Perkins), a woman more than twice his age. If this scenario doesn't strike you as perverse, imagine an alternate universe in which Big had been made with a twelve-year-old girl instead of a twelve-year-old boy. (Okay, imagine 13 Going On 30 doesn't exist. That shouldn't be too hard.) To make matters worse, Josh ends up brusquely informing Susan that she's just violated an adolescent boy. Following this revelation, he abandons her without so much as offering to pay for her therapy.
Ostensible Message: Growing up is tough — enjoy youth while it lasts.
Actual Message: Growing up is tough, and sex is terrifying and predatory.