‘The Stream’ Is a Deluge of References

Aching for the past dam(n)s The Stream.

As an exercise, Estlin Feigley’s The Stream (2013) is laudable. As a film, it is unremarkable. More than 200 Boys & Girls Club teens from across the country helped to produce, film, and edit this film, and you never really forget that while watching. There’s a heart to it, but that heart primarily beats off-screen; the real community of Boys and Girls Club teens built around producing the film leaves more of an impression than the bonds between fictional characters within it.

Maybe that’s because I’m no longer a kid. On the back of the DVD case for The Stream, The Washington Post is quoted calling the film a “family friendly version of Stand by Me,” the phrase “family friendly” of course translating to “approved for kids.” It is natural to look to Rob Reiner’s 1986 film as one of The Stream’s predecessors—after all, both are coming-of-age stories that parallel the path to adulthood and a taxing ramble through the woods. However, Stand by Me does a better (and more subtle) job of evoking nostalgia for childhood, and this is primarily due to the litany of in-your-face references included in The Stream.

These references are mainly made by Rainn Wilson, who plays the older version of Ernest Terry happening upon his old stomping grounds. As he reminisces by voiceover, we follow the bygone saga of his summer 1981: Star Wars has just come out, and the kids in the neighborhood are playing a capture-the-flag game as Jedis, complete with whiffle ball bat lightsabers. To young Ernest’s (Jacob M. Williams) dismay, a bully snaps his already damaged weapon in half. This sets in motion an adventure up the stream with a group of his friends to buy a new bat and return home before their parents begin to worry.

Older Ernest’s voiceover is full of Star Wars references, as is the rest of the film’s script; we are treated to left-to-right swipes between scenes and at one point a character even tells another to “laugh it up, fuzzball.” There are so many references that anyone who has seen Star Wars ends up exhausted. The flood places The Stream on the verge of becoming an adult’s passion project rather than an outlet for Boys & Girls Club creativity.

The Stream is nostalgia-lite. It doesn’t reach the standards of Stand by Me because it’s too clearly the result of adults aching for innocence long gone and attempting to rekindle wonder by having kids simulate their glory years. The acting is somewhat wooden because these kids are in the midst of those years – what a bizarre scenario for a 12/13 year old, having to act as an avatar for another’s idealized past. I cringed when Ernest’s group of friends started singing Joan Jett and the Blackhearts‘ “I Love Rock and Roll”, not because of their voices but because they were so obviously unfamiliar with the tune. The act of filming seems to have been a formative life moment for the kids in Reiner’s film, but you get the sense watching The Stream that the various adults involved in the filmmaking process (primarily Feigley and Colin Costello, the scriptwriter) want to relive their own formative years remotely.

To be fair, I don’t think The Stream actively tries to share a competitive landscape with Stand by Me. And the major adult actors (Wilson, Mario Lopez, Kelly Rutherford) let the younger actors take the spotlight, which is commendable. Even more commendable is the work of the numerous Boys & Girls Club Teens who learned a marketable skill and had fun in the process; they’ve helped to produce a fine example of collaborative art, and should be held in esteem. The real movie is in the credits and special features, where we hear briefly from these various teen filmmakers. An enjoyable documentary could be made from the rest of that footage, surely; I hope it is, as it is only before so much time passes that nostalgia has a chance to outstrip subtlety.

RATING 4 / 10