Great coming of age films are few and far between, but for guys my age one of the best has to be Rob Reiner’s Stand By Me featuring Corey Feldman, Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix and Jerry O’Connell. The Steven King story is about a couple of boys who go on an adventure in search of a dead body, but it’s really more about the journey than the destination. Stand By Me is a classic.
Super 8 has the same feel. It’s the story of a group of middle school kids who accidentally stumble upon a huge Air Force cover up while making a homemade zombie movie on their Super 8 camera. But like Stand By Me the plot is secondary to the maturation process we witness as these boys learn what it’s like to experience adult issues. And also like Stand By Me, the best parts of the film are the conversations between the characters. Who can forget the great debate in Stand By Me about Goofy? “Mickey is a mouse…Donald is a duck…Pluto is a dog…what the hell is Goofy?”
The boys in Super 8 are all experiencing their own issues — the key one being Joe Lamb who is reeling from the loss of his mother and a “distant” father. His new relationship with popular girl Alice (Elle Fanning) is wonderful and turns out to play a key role in two major aspects of the story. These two young actors in particular were brilliant and believable and I suspect we’ll be seeing much more from both of them in the future.
The relationships in the film are so interesting that we almost forget that this is an action-packed thriller from writer/director J.J. Abrams (Lost, Cloverfield, Star Trek, Mission Impossible II). The action is awesome and the effects are super. It has a Transformers feel with a little Alien and E.T. thrown in. And of course the E.T. feel comes directly from Super 8’s producer Steven Spielberg. It’s hard not to compare Super 8 to E.T., but aside from some plot similarities it’s really the mood of the film that is pure Spielberg. The film is set in 1979 in a small Ohio town and little references and images make the period feel real (mentions of Walkmans and Rubik’s Cubes for example). These kids are just like we were growing up in the 70s — Spielberg/Abrams really delivered on that. Plus the kids were all interesting and probably like your own pack of friends there was a goofy kid and a fat kid and a kid who was afraid of everything. Perhaps the best relationship (the one between Alice and Joe) was the one that hit home for me as there was a credible awkwardness between them. 12 year old boys and girls are strange beasts to each other…they repel and attract at the same time. Alice’s entrance into this boys world captured that awkwardness so well.
I think Super 8 is a great family movie — one of the best in many years. It definitely might be a little scary for young kids, but for a 13-year-old like my son it is a home run. But even if you don’t have a tween or young teen but you liked Stand By Me, go see Super 8. You’ll love it.