Part 122: River Phoenix as Chris in ‘Stand by Me’


The other day I was sitting in the hairdressers – having accidentally dyed my hair an alarming shade of orange I was forced to undergo an intensive procedure, involving bleach and scissors and resulting in a pixie crop that appears to have taken its inspiration, colour-wise, from the fur of an ageing labrador. There I was, flicking my big blue eyeballs between Facebook and the weathered pages of an old Glamour magazine, when my stylist asked me a question and inadvertently caused me to reveal repressed teenage yearnings, which explained an awful lot of things about my terrible romantic decision-making processes, and potentially set me on the path to emancipation (by which I mean sex, with someone who isn’t more or less a scumbag).

‘So,’ he said – lifting the tinfoil to check whether my hair had achieved the desired shade of yellow – ‘what’s your type?’ This was not completely àpropos of nothing, as we had, some moments before, been discussing our respective romantic failures. (It is possible, in hindsight, that he was trying it on, subtly – however, I didn’t register if he was because 9am scalp full of bleach is not my most sexy, self-assured hour.)

‘River Phoenix as Chris in Stand by Me,’ I said. And then, after a pause: ‘Oh God. I really mean that.’

Listen, if we became friends and you asked me – on a night out in a restaurant say, or over tea in my living room – about my first love, I would tell you the story of when I was seventeen and walked into a church hall (for secular purposes) and experienced metaphorical fireworks as my soon-to-be-boyfriend did a roly-poly off a plastic chair. But that would be a lie. My first love was Chris from Stand by Me, the 80’s movie about four boys from Portland, Oregon, who go searching for a dead body in the woods.

As is usual when it comes to first loves, he has remained my relationship archetype well after the point where I should have got over it.

Not that you can blame me. As you’ll know, if you’ve ever watched Stand by Me, Chris is a pretty special guy. Tough, resilient, spontaneous, unpretentious, witty, honest, loyal, kind, smart, unafraid of confrontation, protective of the people he loves and very, very good-looking.

(And that bit where he says to Gordie, ‘it’s like God gave you something, man. All those stories you can make up. And he said ”this is what we’ve got for you kid, try not to lose it.” Kids lose everything unless there’s someone there to look out for them. And if your parents are too fucked up to do it, then maybe I should.’ Oh GOD! It’s like: who wouldn’t want to marry the man that boy grows up to be?)

He also dresses remarkably well, considering that he wears one outfit for the entirety of the movie. You can’t go wrong with a white t-shirt and jeans, as far as I’m concerned.

Every single time I have dated, or snogged, or slept with a person I’ve done so because they’ve reminded me of Chris, in one way or another.

This has led to some questionable encounters. For example, I once made out with a soldier who I had just seen drink a pint of urine, because he had shaved head, like Chris, and that was what my brain focused on.

But I am 30 now. I have to get real if I want to make babies, and getting real requires being honest with myself, and with you. Chris is a child and also fictional. And, by the end of the movie (when we discover that he grew up to be everything you ever wanted a man, as his adolescence suggested he would), dead. None of these are qualities I genuinely want in a lover, if I think about it sensibly.

A new archetype is required, in order that I make the necessary leap into proper adult attraction, to men with whom there’s a future. I’m thinking a cross between George Clooney and Ross out of Friends might do it. (Although I’d like to point out that I have never been sexually attracted to Ross out of Friends, in any way whatsoever.)

*Image from


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