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Catching Up on 2010: Josh Reviews Flipped

January 26th, 2011
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Back in June I posted a trailer for Rob Reiner’s new film, Flipped, and I wondered if, at last, Rob Reiner (the mastermind behind This is Spinal Tap, The Sure Thing, Stand By Me, The Princess Bride, When Harry Met Sally, and A Few Good Men) had broken his long dry streak and finally directed a good new film. Unfortunately Flipped was only in theatres for about five seconds, so I never got to see it — but I was happy to have a chance to catch it on DVD.

And I am happy to report that the film represents a strong return to form for Mr. Reiner!

Adapted from the book by Wendelin Van Draanen, Flipped tells the story of Bryce Loski and Juli Baker.  When Bryce is seven, his family moves into the house across the street from Juli’s.  She immediately develops a crush on him, while he finds her attentions to be annoying in the extreme.  By the eight grade, though, Bryce finally begins to see what’s so special about Juli… at the same time as she starts to think that maybe Bryce isn’t the amazing kid she always thought he was.

While I wouldn’t argue that Flipped is of a level with the amazing films listed above that Mr. Reiner directed earlier in his career, it’s a really fun, sweet film that I quite enjoyed.  Mr. Reiner has always had the ability to craft what one might call “family” films that avoid the simplicity and schmaltz so prevalent in “all-ages” types of films, and that skill is on fine display here.  Flipped isn’t edgy, it isn’t groundbreaking, but it’s an extremely well-crafted little story that I found to be really endearing.

The film employs a device (which, I gather, was a main hook of the original book) of continually switching back and forth between Bryce’s & Juli’s perspectives.  We see event unfold narrated by Bryce, and then the film cuts back and we see the same events from Juli’s perspective.  As the film began I wondered if that device wouldn’t get tedious, but in Mr. Reiner’s skilled hands nothing of the sort happens.  He knows exactly how to cut the footage so that he shows us just enough, on the second run-through, of what we need to know without boring the audience by replaying every single second, and the narrative is so-cleverly crafted that our second viewing of the events always shows us something we hadn’t learned before.  (With one notable exception.  Towards the end of the film there’s a scene in which Bryce is talking to a friend about Juli in the library, and although we don’t see her at the time, I found it painfully obvious that we’d later learn that Juli was behind a bookcase, overhearing the conversation.)  I’m not always a huge fan of narration in films, but here I quite enjoyed the alternating narration by Bryce and Juli.  The narration is occasionally a bit on-the-nose, but for the most part it’s clever and fun and it does a great job of capturing the thoughts and feelings of 13-year-olds.

The kids cast to play Bryce and Juli in 2nd grade (Ryan Ketzner and Morgan Lily) are solid, and the two actors who play them in 8th grade (Madeline Carroll and Callan McAuliffe) are fantastic.  I give Mr. Reiner enormous credit for his skill at helping his young actors produce such naturalistic, un-actorly performances.  These kids feel like real kids, and that’s very impressive.  The adult cast is fine as well.  John Mahoney is particularly terrific as Chet, Bryce’s grandfather, and it’s fun to see Rebecca De Mornay back on screen.  The one sore thumb for me was Anthony Edwards as Bryce’s dad, Steven.  I’m not sure if it’s the fault of the actor or the script, but he’s just too one-dimensionally jerkish to suit me.  I don’t mind a character being unlikable, but pretty much every line out of Steven’s mouth was nasty.  I would have preferred a bit more subtlety to the character.  Let’s have a few moments where we see him being a GOOD father to Bryce.  That would make the character feel more like a human being, and it would also help the audience’s emotional reaction when he says something unpleasant.  As it is, I just wrote the character off as a cardboard cut-out.

I love that Mr. Reiner kept the ’50s setting of the book for his film.  I could see a studio’s pushing him to modernize the tale, but there’s something about making this story a period-piece that just feels so right.  It gives this coming-of-age story a timeless quality that I think really works in the film’s favor.

This isn’t Stand By Me, and it isn’t The Princess Bride. But it’s a tender, honest little story that I’m glad to have seen.  For the first time in many years, I feel like I was able to see the work of the director who created all of those fabulous films back in the ’80s.  I look forward to seeing what Mr. Reiner does next!

Two closing notes: 1) I was intrigued to learn on imdb that Madeline Carroll, who does such great work here as Juli, is the same actress who played the girl who befriended young Ben Linus on Lost (as shown in the episode “The Man Behind the Curtain”).  She was great on Lost — so great that I’m still bummed that the show never revisited her character.  (One of my many, MANY lingering disappointments with Lost!!) 2) If you’re interested, check out this fascinating in-depth interview conducted with Rob Reiner by Hitfix’s Drew McWeeny this past summer.  Their conversation covers Flipped as well as many other films from Mr. Reiner’s long career, and it’s a great read.

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