One of the most glorious things about movies from the 1980s (besides everything, of course) was the delightful political incorrectness. Looking back at films from the era, and you’re struck by the candid, pointed, and often offensive adjectives used to describe and name characters. Kids call each other “fags” with nary a cross glance from appalled interest groups and “fatass” gets tossed around like “dude” in a surfer movie.
To pay tribute to this bygone era of careless, politically incorrect pejorative, Hart and I have chosen our favorite fat kids from the movies of one of our favorite eras. Mine? The awkward, whining, simpering perpetual pain in the ass from Stand by Me, played by future heartthrob Jerry O’Connell: Vern Tessio.
The most amazing thing about watching Stand by Me nearly 25 years after the fact is comparing the vision of a Hollywood fat kid in 1986 versus how a fat kid looks today. While it’s true that compared to the other three kids who take the journey to see a dead body, Vern has a little extra baby fat, he’s positively svelte compared to the obese little turds walking around society now. You get the impression watching this movie that if Vern could lay off his favorite food of all-time (Cherry-flavored Pez) and ensure that he doesn’t eat too much “breakfast stuff” (Twinkies and Pez and Root Beer), that he’d be just fine once he got to high school and grew a few more inches. Given that this movie takes place in 1959 when people ate, y’know, real food and stuff, you get the impression laying off that shit wouldn’t prove too difficult.
And yet, there he is absorbing all the punishment from his friends for being just a little chubby. Think about if the character of Seth from Superbad (played by Jonah Hill) showed up in this movie. He wouldn’t be Vern, he’d be freaking “Lardass” from that horrifying pie eating story they tell around the campfire. Obese people in 1959 appeared in the sideshow, not real life. And what’s funniest is that while this movie takes place in the late 50s, it was still filmed and cast in a mere two and a half decades ago. Culturally, that progression from what “fat” looked like then to what it looks like now is staggering and probably serves as one of the biggest (and weirdest) indictments of our cultural devolution into poor health. It’s that broad scope vision of a fatass that makes Vern my favorite fat kid from the 80s.
However, ignoring the larger societal ramifications of Vern’s portrayal for a minute, and my favorite thing about Jerry O’Connell’s Vern is how he serves as a counterpoint for all the other characters in the story. Gordie is the story’s narrator and moves the story along. Chris is the story’s heart and embodies the aloof, and intangible “cool” that one of your friends in your sad little group (probably not you, since you read this website) embodied with piercing, silent blue eyes. Teddy is brazen, loudmouthed, and conflicted.
Vern is hapless. Vern’s a schlemiel. He’s all misdirected worry, and no balls. While crossing the bridge on the train tracks, he frets about losing that stupid comb he thought so important to bring along for when they find poor, dead Ray Brower. He’s too much of a pussy to cross the bridge on his feet like the other kids and insists on doing it on his hands and knees. Vern is the embodiment of every kid that annoyed the piss out of you in elementary school.
And for that reason, he’s also a big reason why this movie still stands up as well as it does. Vern annoys us not only because we knew kids like him when we were his age, but because we’ve all been Vern at one point or another. Through its four main protagonists, Stand by Me offers a vessel for its viewers to re-live all the moments of our youth, for better or worse.
We’ve all felt like outcasts like Teddy. We’ve all fretted that our parents don’t care about us like Gordie. We’ve all worried that we’re not smart enough to succeed like Chris. And sadly, we’ve all probably at some point been the annoying, scaredy cat candyass like Vern, whether we want to admit it or not. When we laugh and scoff at all of Vern’s shortcomings, we’re allowed to laugh at ourselves in a safe context and psychically work through all of our own issues. Vern is the equipment for which we get to live more comfortably.
And if you don’t buy that, we laugh because it’s damn near impossible to reconcile luckless, chubby Vern with #1 draft choice, meathead quarterback Cush from Jerry Maguire as the same actor.
How the hell did that happen?
07 Apr 2010 E Dagger