Dec 5, 2018

White Water Summer/Stand By Me

Although panned by the critics and ignored by most heterosexuals, White Water Summer (1987) became a hit among gay kids and teenagers, maybe for the same reasons that they ignored the critically acclaimed Stand by Me the year before (1986).

 The plot of Stand: four boys (Will Wheaton, River Phoenix, Jerry O'Connell, Corey Feldman) brave a suburban wilderness on a weird quest to see a dead body.  En route they confront their anxieties and bond with each other.

The plot of Summer: four boys (Sean Astin, Jonathan Ward, Matt Adler, K.C. Martel) brave a wilderness on a white water rafting expedition, led by the brutal, abusive Vic (Kevin Bacon).  En route the confront their anxieties and bond with each other.

The differences:

In Stand, the conflicts involve parentage, family, bullying, and heterosexual destiny.  In Summer, the conflicts involve the boys' relationships with each other and their dismay at the brutality of the adult world.

In Stand, the male body is a site of anxiety and despair; a boy is too fat, or has poor eyesight; leeches attack their crotches.  In Summer, the male body is a thing of beauty. The characters compliment each other, gaze at each other, lie prone against each other.

The boys of Stand are aggressively homophobic, throwing around the term "faggot" and challenging each others' "masculinity."  They are also aggressively heterosexual, discussing boobs, girls, having sex with girls, not having sex with girls.  The boys of Summer mention neither "faggots" nor girls.

Stand ends with the boys parting, and the adult narrator telling us what happened to them -- mostly involvng marriage and family, the "inevitable" loss of boyhood bonds.

Summer ends with the boys together, still friends, the same-sex bond intact.


  1. Jonathan Ward was on "Charles in Charge" in its first season, and then he played a teen superhero in "The New Adventures of Beans Baxter."

  2. I'm not sure where you're getting your statistics, but I was a 13 yo gay kid when 'Stand by Me' came out in 1986 and I remember very clearly that it was a HUGE smash hit with teenagers (boys and girls, both gay and straight). I was 14 the following year when 'White Water Summer' came out and I never even HEARD of it until it came on TV. According to, 'Stand by Me' grossed well over $50 million domestically, and 'White Water Summer' grossed a whopping $300,000 domestically (apparently it was such a flop that a planned nationwide release was nixed by the distributing studio). So Ok, it never got a nationwide release, so that's an unfair comparison, so let's level the playing field and look at the limited "opening weekend" releases for both: 'Stand' made over $242,000 in 16 theatres (over $15,000 average per theatre) and 'Summer' made less than $123,000 in 105 theatres ($1,170 average per theatre), which means 'Stand' was more than 10 times more successful per screen just in its opening weekend as a "limited release". Don't get me wrong, I actually loved 'White Water Summer' (Sean Astin in those tight pants would have been worth the price of admission alone), but the assertion that gay kids flocked to 'White Water Summer' while avoiding 'Stand by Me' in droves is just patently absurd. 'Stand by Me' is considered one of the all time classics of my generation while I doubt most people have ever even heard of 'White Water Summer' (with the exception of those who were lucky enough to catch it on cable at 3am).

    1. My stats are just me and my friends, and nowadays sometimes my students.

    2. Fair enough, but (as this site points out) how a grown adult, who has the ability to hop over to their local gay bar in West Hollywood for a quickie, or to run to the local video shop for a gay porno, or jump on a Greyhound bus to San Francisco, anytime they want, interprets a film is totally different than how gay kids who are starved for representation interpret it. The same goes for college students (or even teenagers) in some film class dissecting the "political correctness" of a film 20+ years later. A gay kid today is living in a completely different world than kids were living in back in 1986 (granted, mainstream film/television aimed at them still has a LONG way to go, but kids today can watch practically anything they want online, or click over to Youtube and watch hundreds of 13yolds just like them talking about their own "coming out" stories).

      I turned 13 in 1986, the year 'Stand by Me' was released (the EXACT age of the boys in the film), and I can personally guarantee you this was the ONE "must see" film for 12/13yolds of 1986. When we all returned from summer vacation and began 8th grade, EVERYONE in my middle school of over 1,200 kids had seen it and EVERYONE loved it (boys, girls, intersex, gay, straight, pansexual, everybody). In fact, I distinctly remember the song 'Stand by Me', along with "Don't You Forget About Me" (The Breakfast Club') and "If You Leave" (Pretty in Pink) was not only played at every school dance that year, but it was also our middle school graduation "theme song" almost a year after the film's release (not to mention dozens of "dedications" of the song to friends published in the school yearbook).

      But as I pointed out, it's really not a matter of my personal opinion. The box office stats speak for themselves and are posted at BoxOfficeMojo for everyone to see. 50 million dollars, adjusted for inflation into today's dollars, is over 100 million (which would be considered a bona fide "blockbuster"). I'm not arguing your impression of the film (it's been a long time, so I'd need to re-watch it to find the numerous "problems" you talk about), but the idea that the film could somehow hit the $50 million mark in 1986 while being "ignored" by kids (gay or straight) is absurd. Just because you personally didn't like a film doesn't mean you can rewrite history.

      I'll make you a deal, I'll re-watch the film with an open mind if you will. If you honestly still don't see how the relationship between River Phoenix and Wil Wheaton in the film was a revelation for gay kids of that era, then I can accept that, but nothing can convince me (or any other gay kid born between 1970–1975) that we "ignored" the film. We know better. Like it or not, 'Stand by Me' is the film that catapulted River to stardom and made him a "teen idol" in the hearts of little gay boys (and straight girls) everywhere. In fact, I'm not even sure he would have ever had the opportunity to have done any of his subsequent films otherwise (trust me, no 13 year old was running to the theatres to see 'Mosquito Coast').

  3. THANK YOU! Oh, it's so great to FINALLY get an alternative POV to the endless sycophantic worshipping of "Stand By Me". It's quite lonely being seemingly the only person in the universe who isn't enthralled to the nth degree by this film. I read the Stephen King novella as a teenager a year before the movie came out, so when I finally saw the movie, I already knew what the story was, so nothing in it really surprised me. I thought the short story was OK, but nothing special. I never found the movie SBM enthralling or nostalgic, or liked any of the kids or characters in it. I hated the assumption asserted by so many people that "everyone can identify with at least one of the characters in it!" I didn't identify with ANY of them. I thought the story was bleak and depressing. I hated the message at the end, like you said, that childhood male-bonding has to inevitably end on the almightly altar of girlfriends and marriage. The response in this thread is typical. SBM's fans are notoriously thin-skinned and will show their fangs at anything that isn't sufficiently worshipful of The Greatest Masterpiece Of Art Ever Created By Humanity(TM) (groan!) I suppose the very fact that in invokes such strong emotions and opinions across virtually every demographic you can think of makes me grudgingly respect it. Intellecutally, I suppose I can see why people love it, but emotionally I can't love it AT ALL. It's OK, but I just can't stand what people have made of it.


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