All this week, Yahoo Movies will be looking back on the movies from the incredible summer of 1986. Go here to read more.
“Do you guys wanna go see a movie about a dead body?”
OK, so that’s probably not how my parents told my brother and I that we’d be seeing Stand by Me on one of our regular trips to the multiplex during the movie-packed summer of 1986. Had it been our choice, we probably would have pushed for Transformers: The Movie, which opened the same weekend. Since there was no way my parents were going to a Transformers feature, Stand by Me — based on Stephen King’s 1982 novella “The Body” — became the default option. This was despite the fact that it had been slapped with the dreaded R rating, a threshold that neither my 8-year-old self nor my 5-year-old brother had yet crossed.
I don’t remember knowing that I was about to see my first R-rated movie when we took our seats in the theater. But it became very clear very early on that Stand by Me wasn’t like the movies I’d been watching up to that point. Up on the screen, I saw kids not that much older than myself — Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Corey Feldman, and Jerry O’Connell were just entering their teen years when the movie was shot — smoking cigarettes, firing guns, dodging trains, and cursing with wild, wonderful abandon on their weekend journey to find the body of Ray Brower. Besides acting like adults, they were also confronting distinctly adult questions about friendship and mortality that I had barely begun to formulate. Despite not knowing the exact definition of the word “metaphor” at the time, I recognized that Stand by Me was telling me something about the journey from childhood to adulthood, and what’s lost and gained along the way.
But then, amid all the weighty talk of death, neglect and abuse, came a sequence of exquisite juvenilia that can be summed up in two words: Lard. Ass. The invention of the film’s narrator and central character Gordie Lachance (Wil Wheaton), who tells the story to his pals one night, Lard Ass Hogan (Andy Lindberg) is a beyond-portly teenager who uses his small town’s annual pie-eating contest as a vehicle to take revenge on his many tormentors. Downing a bottle of castor oil and a raw egg before the feeding frenzy begins, the kid ensures that his stomach will void itself of blueberry pastry mid-competition, paving the way for the ultimate gross-out: an epic barf-o-rama.
Lard Ass’s triumph might not be the most dramatic scene in Stand by Me, but I’d argue that it might be the key to the movie’s longevity, providing kids and grown-ups alike with a proudly adolescent set-piece in the middle of a distinctly adult movie. It turns out that the film’s screenwriters, Bruce A. Evans and Raynold Gideon, had similar feelings; in fact, they’re the reason the barf-o-rama is in the film at all. According to Evans — who recently spoke to Yahoo Movies — director Rob Reiner fully intended to leave Lard Ass on the page, due to concerns that he was “stooping to get a laugh.” After writing alternate yarns for Gordie to spin for his buddies — including a Western and an outer space adventure — they successfully lobbied Reiner to keep the barf-o-rama. “We told Rob, ‘We have all this bad stuff happening, so this will be a splash of color and fun. It allows audience this release, and then you can start building to the end.’”
Beyond his function as a tonal pivot, Lard Ass served another purpose, at least for me. Early on in Stand by Me, Gordie describes himself as the “Invisible Boy,” referring to the way his grieving parents look through him and see only the specter of his dead older brother Denny (John Cusack) lurking around the house. In the summer of ’86, I was the “Fat Kid,” and was accustomed to seeing the onscreen doppelgangers who also fit that description — say, Chunk in The Goonies and even Vern in Stand by Me — be batted around as the comic relief/punching bag of the group. But here was a Fat Kid who turned the tables on his tormentors, using the twin sources of his torment, that sizeable gut and prodigious appetite, as his chief weapons.
Andy Lindberg, the local actor who landed the role of Lard Ass in between his freshman and sophomore year in high school in Oregon (where the movie was filmed), wasn’t personally a member of the plus-sized cafeteria set. (His girth in the film was achieved courtesy of a two-piece fat suit with a heavily padded top.) But he tells Yahoo Movies that he understood what a release his alter ego’s revenge plot must have been for those of us who were. “It was very easy to get into Lard Ass’s headspace. Those were the days when you could be mercilessly bullied at school; it was just kind of what people did. When I first read the script, I skipped over the humor and immediately went to sympathizing with him. Then the humor of it washed over me. It’s the bit of comic relief before the story goes to its darkest place.”
Lindberg adds that he never heard how King himself felt about seeing his plus-sized creation brought to life, so he’ll be glad to hear that the author adores Lard Ass. “It was beautiful, because the puking was done in a way that was so surreal it didn’t make anyone feel ill,” King tells us via e-mail. “Not tasteful — you can’t really make projectile vomiting tasteful — but it really was very funny.”
I saw a number of the actual comedies that were released that summer. But if you had asked me to name the summer’s funniest movie, I would have said Stand by Me, purely for the Lard Ass sequence. The five minutes that he was onscreen delighted and moved me in ways it took me a few years, if not decades, to fully articulate. I had a window into what my face must have looked like in that theater three decades ago when I introduced my 8-year-old son to Stand by Me last summer. The cruelty of Lard Ass’s plight, the dawning awareness of what he has planned, the gasping belly laughs that accompany all the projectile vomiting — we experienced all of that together and talked about it for days afterwards. It just goes to show you that Hollywood doesn’t make barf-o-ramas like the one they made in the summer of 1986. Jesus, does anyone?
Watch the trailer: