Directed By: Rob Reiner
Screenplay By: Rob Reiner, Andrew Scheinman
Based on the novel by Wendelin Van Draanen
Produced By: Alan Greisman, Rob Reiner
Cast: Madeline Carroll, Callan McAuliffe, Aidan Quinn, John Mahoney, Anthony Edwards
MPAA Rating: PG
Runtime: 90 minutes
Release Date: August 6, 2010
Review Date: August 27, 2010
One of those moments of pleasure derived from witnessing a film breaking down expectations can be had in Flipped. Here is the story of a boy, told from his point of view in voiceover, who moves to a new house, meets the girl who lives across the street, and can’t stand her within five minutes of their first encounter. Then, the moment happens. The image literally flips (the reliance on a rotating wipe does become a nuisance), and here is the story of a girl, from her perspective in the narration, who sees a new family move in across the street, meets a boy, and falls head-over-heels in love with him.
Rob Reiner’s film goes back and forth between the viewpoint of the boy and girl, each commenting on his or her feelings about an event, its buildup, or its aftermath. It’s a simple device but one that has a tangible effect on the narrative. In presenting both sides, Reiner and Andrew Scheinman’s script (based on a young adult novel by Wendelin Van Draanen) furthers our insight into these kids, and from that insight flows the sympathy.
The boy and girl are Bryce Loski (Callan McAuliffe) and Juli Baker (Madeline Carroll). Bryce doesn’t understand why Juli has followed him around from the first day they met when he’s made it clear he doesn’t want to be seen with her, even going so far as to hide behind his mother (Rebecca De Mornay) after the kids unintentionally grabbed hands. Juli can’t grasp why Bryce simply won’t say he likes her, considering how they accidentally held hands the first day they met and how he hid behind his mother out of embarrassment.
Years pass, and high school approaches. Juli still has a crush on Bryce, and he still tries to avoid her. Bryce’s father, Steven (Anthony Edwards), is judgmental of the Bakers’ front lawn, while his grandfather, Chet (John Mahoney), living with the family after the death of his wife, thinks Juli is a special girl, worthy of Bryce’s attention.
Chet believes this after reading an article in the paper about how Juli sat in the highest branches of an old sycamore tree to protest its being cut down. Bryce thinks it was strange the way she would sit up there, watching the school bus come down the street, and when the city came in to remove it, he felt bad for her but didn’t want to skip school to help.
Meanwhile, Juli’s father Richard (Aidan Quinn) is a painter (since he’s a dreamer, Steven argues, it’s a guarantee that either Richard or his wife (Penelope Ann Miller) will always be unhappy). Juli will sit in the back yard, while her dad paints his landscapes, listening to his stories. She’ll talk about Bryce — mainly his eyes and smile — and finally, one day, Richard lays out the important things: You have to look at the big picture. That’s why she loved the tree, which gave her the best view of the sunrise and sunset, so dad paints her a picture of the sycamore when it’s gone.
The film is a quaint one, beyond its setting in an all-American suburb during the early 1960s. Reiner and Scheinman genuinely like these characters — or at least the ones who deserve it. There is, of course, the inequity of the mothers in this story, especially in light of how dedicated the film is to equally strong male and female leads. Steven is painted in broad, intolerant strokes, and the only explanation lies in a longing regret for a past music career that had to be put aside. There’s only pity to be had for him, and even that disappears with a single, sudden, drunken act of physical abuse, meant only to shock and never raised again (compare it to a dinner table fight between the Bakers, during which issues are raised, addressed, and resolved but still sting). Most awkward, though, is a scene in which Richard and Juli visit Richard’s developmentally disabled brother (Kevin Weisman) in an absolutely pointless scene that only highlights embarrassing results.
Aside from these problems and an over-lit attempt at nostalgia by cinematographer Thomas Del Ruth, this is a sweet-natured and considerate film. McAuliffe and Carroll’s compassionate performances even manage to overcome the incessant voiceovers of their characters, which only grate occasionally from redundancy.
Bryce and Juli change their minds, grow, and start to understand and accept themselves and the other. What remains from Flipped is that sense of honesty about a time in one’s life when the heart really wants what it wants while one is still trying to figure out why.
Mark Dujsik is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Online Film Critics Society. For more of his reviews, visit his website.