Okay! I've been composing my defense of Stand By Me basically since the first time I requested that Amy and Devin do a SBM episode. And I was in full panic mode when I remembered it came out today, because this movie is so dear to me and I was so sure that they were both going to hate it. And I listened to it and honed this response and here we go.
Getting this out of the way: Can confirm that Chris Chambers was a heartthrob to pre-teen Petra.
I knew that this was going to come up and I honestly thought it would be sort of a bigger discussion point -- Stand by Me is VERY boy-heavy, and in fact does not address women in any significant way at all in the film (and as noted, the only speaking part is Gordie's meek/grief-stricken mother). I hate to say that I don't think it matters, but ... it kind of doesn't? I'd much rather them make a streamlined, focused movie about boyhood than try to shoehorn in girl characters -- which, for the purposes of a coming-of-age film, often do little more than adding a sexual awakening for the boys and are rarely their own persons in any meaningful way. This is how I felt about The Kings of Summer, which a lot of people compared to Stand by Me when it came out; the girl in there was basically just a plot device for the two buddies to fight over to the point where I wish they hadn't included her at all. (But the fact that any group-orientated coming of age story since SBM came out is compared to SBM points to its presence in the culture and its canon-worthiness.)
Jumping off the boy thing, though: When I think about Stand By Me and my relationship to it, I don't consider this to necessarily be a "boy" movie. I saw this movie when I was very young and watched it pretty much anytime it was on TV (it was also one of the first DVDs I remember purchasing). It's probably in part because it focuses on prepubescent boys, and so often coming-of-age films are so reliant on the romantic/sexual aspects of growing up and "becoming a man" (or becoming a woman) that it glosses over these other very tactile, very universal components of growing into the world, like your realization of your own morality and the mortality of those around you. I remember being 8 or 9 and having what I can only describe as a panic attack in my living room one night as this wave of realization hit me that one day, my mom was going to die. And I stood there and sobbed to her about not wanting her to die while she stared at me, sort of bewildered and not quite sure how to comfort me. It's something that I don't see being addressed in coming-of-age films a lot. (Another reason it may be relatable is that the protagonist of the movie is a relatively feminine boy, who is soft and emotional and vulnerable.)
I also think that the way they deal with this event in regards to the four boys is very well done in the sense that they're all on different tracks heading in the same direction that don't stop at the same stations. (Sorry, more train metaphors.) They all experience this thing together -- the journey, the destination -- but it doesn't all hit them the same way. This was a profound moment for Gordie to see the dead body of a kid his age, and I think seeing this kid with the life knocked out of him created this sort of tangible through-way to dealing with Denny's death, which is sort of obvious thematically, but in a practical sense -- Denny's funeral was probably closed casket, and there's something different about this sort of abstract absence that's still felt around the house, vs. seeing this almost anonymous kid just ... dead. And that meant something to him in a way that didn't mean something to Teddy or Vern, for example. I think Chris felt it because Chris is an empath, and he felt it through Gordie, but as Devin said -- Vern probably remembers that trip as the best day of his life. Y'know?
Regarding the changes from the book to the film, I'm surprised this wasn't mentioned -- in the novella, Gordie doesn't pick up the gun against Ace; Chris does. The way it's framed in the book is that Gordie is telling CHRIS's story, so a lot of the "why is Gordie so special?" stuff I think is left over from the fact that Gordie ISN'T that special, and Gordie doesn't think he's that special. Gordie knows Chris is special, and I think anyone who watches SBM knows, too, that Chris is special. I think the remnants of that original structure are still left in the film in really subtle ways, and I can't really make up my mind about which format I like better -- Gordie makes the most structural sense to pick up the gun, because he's the protagonist, but I think comparing how the movie would have changed if Chris had done it would've been so interesting.
The homoeroticism is something that I noticed when I was older, and it's ... fun! Because I don't know that it was intentional, but it's certainly there. It's this tenderness with the way they talk to each other, and the fact that they have the majority of their conversations on their own and that they feel so comfortable confiding these very emotional and vulnerable sides to themselves in each other. I do think his relationship with Chris is tinged by nostalgia of older-Gordie reflecting on him after his death. I mean, the last shot of Chris in the film is him literally dissolving away. It's not entirely event to memory to page. (Speaking of writing though -- I think Gordie's "lines" are a matter of personal preference and I happen to like the "busboys in a restaurant" line quite a lot. The keds one I can take or leave, but I did like, "The kid wasn't sick. The kid wasn't sleeping. The kid was dead." For above stated reasons. But I'm surprised the biggest writerly line wasn't brought up -- "I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anyone?" Discuss!)
About the broadness -- I agree with Devin that kids are broad, but the other thing of note is that the two instances of broadness that were brought up were right at the start of the movie -- the "JESUS!" gunshot reaction and Vern's pennies (which was an image created by Gordie -- even if they knew Vern was looking for the pennies, I don't think they would've sat under the porch and watched him do it, and that scene in particular led into Vern sticking his face through the lattice as he eavesdropped on the conversation about Ray Brower). It starts broad, it starts optimistic, it starts with an adventure -- and then it dials back. And it does that on a micro-level too, within a given scene sometimes -- the leeches scene starts with them shoving each other into the water and ends with Gordie practically crying because there's a leech on his balls. (And Gordie's great explosion afterward when Teddy and Vern are fighting with each other!)
One last thing before I go, and this may wind up being a jumbled mess but I'm going to try and articulate it -- nostalgia re: this movie is tricky for me. This movie is about a baby boomer who is reflecting on this very specific two-day event in his childhood. My mom is a baby boomer, and I used to watch this with her a lot. A lot of the music in it, I would listen to when I was a kid (and still do) because it's the music that my mom listened to, and it's music that I grew up with (alongside the 80s rock that my uncles listened to and the '90s and '00s music of my current generation). Nostalgia seems rooted in this idea that a thing exists in its time and not beyond, and you have to reach back to grab it and while you're reaching back you're not looking forward. And sometimes that's true. But the multi-generational nature of things like music -- and, I would argue, like this film -- I think push toward it being more than just a time capsule. I think Stand By Me grows with you, and I think it's more than just a comfort blanket. It's more than just an excuse to remember "the good ol' days" because the movie is predicated on the fact that the good ol' days were not that good, and even the most meaningful things were tinged with sadness. I think it deals a lot with hindsight, which is not the same thing as nostalgia, and how sometimes the things you should cherish are not the things you would think to stop and immortalize in the moment. The journey was about them going to see the dead body, but he was writing in a large way about this intersection of his friends in this very pivotal moment in his life, and how the context of them experiencing it with him shaped the experience and him (specifically, especially Chris).
Anyway! I'm voting a resounding yes. Obviously.