Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance
Director: Rob Reiner
Screenwriters: Rob Reiner, Andrew Scheinman
Starring: Madeline Carroll, Callan McAuliffe, Rebecca De Mornay
No one will ever accuse Rob Reiner of skimping on earnestness and sincerity. THe last charitable may even deploy adjectives such as “hokey” and “maudlin” to describe the director’s preferred mode. Atmospherically, I think this is as true in his best films as in his worst — Stand By Me is no less heart-on-its-sleeve straightforward than, say, Alex & Emma. There’s no escaping it. The guy’s a big softie.
What can set Reiner apart from his contemporary purveyors of pleasant, inoffensive studio product is his (admittedly inconsistent) command of tone. At his best, Reiner takes care not to drown the audience in sticky-sweet sentimentality fortified with anodyne Hollywood-approved “messages.” Instead, he dispenses that stuff in short, meticulously timed bursts that seem to vanish into their amiable, easygoing surroundings. At his very best — most notably in The Princess Bride — you don’t notice them at all, though they’re still there.
Flipped, Reiner’s first stab at a family film since the disastrous North, comes nowhere near the beautifully constructed brilliance of Princess Bride, but it’s nonetheless Reiner’s best effort in more than ten years. A simple, elegant coming-of-age story of friendship and budding romance in a staid 1950s suburb, it’s one of the least adorned coming-of-age movies in recent memory, emphasizing character over adventures and heroics. It’s not inspired, exactly, but if Reiner is to keep making breezy, insubstantial entertainments, may they all be this unassumingly enjoyable.
The film is narrated by its two principals — Bryce Loski (Callan McAuliffe), a callow, good-looking 14 year-old, and Juli Baker (Madeline Carroll), his preternaturally bright, independent, self-assured classmate. Juli’s torch for Bryce has been burning for a good seven years, notwithstanding the fact that Bryce can’t stand her — or thinks he can’t. Embarrassed by her presence and obvious crush but too polite to be mean, Bryce effectively hides from her — tough, since she lives across the street.
The movie shuffles between Bryce and Juli’s points of view, showing the same events from both perspectives as they suffer betrayal, heartbreak and embarrassment as only eighth graders can. It’s a familiar gimmick, deployed effectively — Reiner doesn’t try to be too clever about it, and almost never uses it as a punchline. The point is simple: different people see the same things differently, and a casual dismissal or flippant remark, though it may seem frivolous to the person who makes it, can have the power to cause someone else a lot of pain. And the ability to understand this is step one on the path to growing up.
Bryce and Juli’s incessant voiceover may be a dealbreaker for some people. Put politely, it won’t shut up, to the point where the entire story threatens to become verbal (and the adults, played by wonderful actors like Rebecca Demornay, Aidan Quinn, John Mahoney, and Anthony Edwards, get drowned out). But the movie is constructed eloquently enough that the constant yapping stopped bothering me. Flipped reminded me of Gabor Csupo’s Bridge to Terabithia, another quiet, uncondescending family film about getting older and learning to relate to others. Rob Reiner may never recapture the magic of his early work, but maybe minor gems like Flipped will do just fine.