September 12, 2010

Flipped

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A movie review by James Berardinelli



Flipped

ROMANCE/COMEDY:

United States, 2010

U.S. Release Date:

2010-08-06

Running Length:

1:30

MPAA Classification:

PG

Theatrical Aspect Ratio:

1.85:1

Cast:

Madeline Carroll, Callan McAuliffe, Rebecca De Mornay, Anthony Edwards, John Mahoney, Penelope Ann Miller, Aidan Quinn, Morgan Lily, Ryan Ketzner

Director:

Rob Reiner

Screenplay:

Rob Reiner & Andrew Scheinman, based on the novel by Wendelin Van Draanen

Cinematography:

Thomas Del Ruth

Music:

Marc Shaiman

U.S. Distributor:

Warner Brothers

Subtitles:

none


Flipped is Rob Reiner's best film in 18 years, and includes echoes of two of his most accomplished efforts, The Sure Thing and Stand By Me. It also may be 2010's best romantic comedy. And it is being buried by Warner Brothers because of a concern there's no audience for it. It's impossible to judge whether the film's distributors are correct - tepid box office results often occur when a movie's release date is staggered and juggled and when the marketing campaign is almost non-existent. The bottom line is that many who might be interested in Flipped will be unaware of its here-now/gone-tomorrow release and will have to wait for the DVD. The sad thing is, Reiner has struggled for nearly two decades to get back to the level he was at in the late-'80s and early '90s and, now that he's achieved it, no one seems to care.

Flipped is a "pre-sexual" romantic comedy, meaning that it involves a crush between two pre-teen children during an era (the late 1950s and early 1960s) when kids their age were not overexposed to sex and sexual imagery. Reiner's perspective may be one of forced innocence, but it works. By deleting hormones and desire from the equation, Reiner can construct a story based purely on an idealized version of young love. The feelings these characters experience will be familiar to anyone who endured a grade school crush, especially when the attachment was not reciprocal.

The term "flipped" relates the change in a young person's feelings for a member of the opposite sex from hate to love (or vice versa). It's the moment when a boy stops regarding a girl as pest and sees her as someone worth spending time with or the instance when a girl loses interest in pursuing a boy and begins viewing his immaturity as a flaw rather than an asset. In keeping with the title, Reiner "flips" the viewpoint at various times throughout the movie, presenting events from both the boy's and girl's perspectives. Initially, this comes across as an artificial way to advance the narrative, but after the first few changes, it turns out to be a legitimate and effective way to relate both sides. Reiner is not the first director to employ this non-standard approach to conveying a story, but Flipped is one of the more successful examples of it.

It's 1957 and second grader Bryce Loski (Ryan Ketzer) has moved into a new house with his mother, Patsy (Rebecca De Mornay); father, Steven (Anthony Edwards); and sister, Lynetta. He is immediately approached by his new neighbor, seven-year old Juli Baker (Morgan Lily), who is captivated by his eyes. Bryce is desperate to avoid this girl, but she is relentless and shadows him all through grade school and into junior high, when the story picks up again after a break of several years. By the time Juli (now played by Madeline Carroll) and Bryce (Callan McAuliffe) have reached seventh grade, the situation has grown extreme, with Juli's signs of affection obvious and Bryce facing derision because of them. But then a strange thing happens. Just as Bryce begins to discover that he may have feelings for Judi, she reacts to some of his negative comments and actions and turns cool toward him. Both of them flip, almost simultaneously.

Flipped draws on nostalgia for much of its power - not only recollections of what the world was like during the middle decades of the 20th century, but of how infatuation, crushes, and interaction with members of the opposite sex work when you're young. Although the characters are 12 and the content is suitable for a family audience, Flipped is designed primarily for older viewers. It gains its effectiveness through a retrospective perspective. Prepubescent viewers may sense less in common with Juli and Bryce than one might expect. Although some aspects of youth are constant across the years, others - in particular those that relate to male/female relationships - shift as cultural norms change, and society has altered a great deal in the past 50 years.

For his leads, Reiner has selected talented but little-known actors. Madeline Carroll, whose performance is nuanced and expressive, has an extensive television resume, but this is the first feature film in which she has been given a starring part. Her highest-profile previous endeavor was as Kevin Costner's daughter in Swing Vote. Meanwhile, Callan McAuliffe arrives with fewer titles on his filmography than Carroll, but he is equal to the task of sharing the screen with her. He also has no difficulties with an American accent (he's Australian).

The supporting roles of parents and other adults are filled by familiar faces, although not necessarily household names. Bryce's parents are played by Rebecca De Mornay, who has aged while we weren't looking from a twentysomething femme fatale into convincing stereotypical mother, and ex-ER mainstay Anthony Edwards. Juli's Mom and Dad are Penelope Ann Miller, who was on the verge of entering the A-list during the early 1990s, and Aidan Quinn, who has kept his name afloat throughout the decades. John Mahoney, who spent more than ten years in weekly television on Frasier, plays Bryce's grandfather.

Perhaps Flipped is an ideal direct-to-DVD movie - it has no "big" stars and features themes and ideas that will most appeal to a demographic that has largely deserted multiplexes in favor of home video. In a way, that's sad, because this kind of filmmaking reminds us of the power of motion pictures to touch minds, hearts, and memories. If it can't find an audience and its distributor can't figure out how to market it, what hope is there for more like this? Flipped will reward those who can find it, whether in theaters or during a post-multiplex life.

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