Rob Reiner’s new film “Flipped” is a beautiful piece of work, simple and sincere and wise, featuring a great ensemble cast ranging from their early teens to their seventies. It’s great to see Reiner make a film that is every inch as warm and human and enjoyable as the films he made his name with in the early part of his career. It may be based on a novel, but Reiner wrote the adaptation himself, and his voice as a filmmaker has rarely been this crystal-clear.
Reiner and his co-screenwriter Andrew Scheinman retained the unusual structure of the book by Wendelin Van Draanen, and the result is unconventional enough that the trailers for the film never even tried to explain it. “Flipped” is the story of Bryce Loski (Callan McAuliffe) and Juli Baker (Madeline Carroll), two kids who meet when the Loskis move into the house across the street from the Bakers. When they first move in, we see the memory from the perspective of Bryce, complete with voice-over narration. Ten minutes or so into the film, we jump back to the beginning, and this time we see everything from Juli’s perspective, complete with voice-over.
The entire film is divided like that, and at first, it just seems like a clever way of setting up some tension in a story of first love. Bryce thinks the little girl across the street is weird, while she looks at him and sees her first kiss hiding in there somewhere. The easy version of this film would just be concerned with getting them to that kiss. Not “Flipped,” though. Reiner’s far more concerned with those two kids, and the role community plays in the way character evolves.
Heady stuff for a movie about kids in the early ’60s, no?
“Stand By Me,” Reiner’s first movie set in this era, was based on a Stephen King novella and took an affectionate look back at the time, romanticizing all the totems of childhood. “Flipped,” on the other hand, strips away the veneer of nostalgia to reveal some hard truths about what we learn from our families. The Loskis are well-off and, on the surface, Bryce’s parents Steven (Anthony Edwards) and Patsy (Rebecca De Mornay) seem like the ideal neighbors and parents. Juli’s house is the worst one on the block, though, and people make all sorts of assumptions about Richard (Aidan Quinn) and Trina (Penelope Ann Miller) and why they can’t take care of their house. The purest voice in the film belongs to Chet Duncan (the great John Mahoney), Bryce’s grandfather, who seems to be the one person able to look past the surfaces and see these people for who they really are. He knows how ugly Steven’s heart is, and he sees what a remarkable person Juli is. He sees her parents, sees their strength, and he knows that his own son-in-low judges them because of his own weakness. Chet thinks Bryce would be lucky to have Juli in his life, and Chet also has the hard realization that his grandson might not be good enough for this girl, and that she might be better off forgetting about him altogether.
“Flipped” seems concerned with the importance of self-respect that comes from living a life of substance, and the film has very strong ideas about what makes a good person. Even so, the film is filled with gentle observational humor, and even at its most serious, the affection that underscores the entire film keeps it entertaining. Thomas Del Ruth’s photography walks the fine line between nostalgia and crisp reality, which seems appropriate considering the film’s themes. But if anything really holds the film together, it’s the work by Callan McAuliffe and Madeline Carroll, who give performances that are enormously accomplished. The way they both evolve over the course of the film is smart and subtle, and they are both more than equal to the challenge of the script. Overall, Reiner orchestrates the entire cast with real sensitivity, and it’s a pleasant and welcome return to form for one of my favorite Hollywood’s traditional studio filmmakers.
“Flipped” opens in theaters everywhere August 6.
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