Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Movie Review: Flipped

Flipped ***
Directed by:
Rob Reiner
Written By: Rob Reiner & Andrew Scheinman based on the novel by Wendelin Van Draanen.
Starring: Madeline Carroll (Juli Baker), Callan McAuliffe (Bryce Loski), Rebecca De Mornay (Patsy Loski), Anthony Edwards (Steven Loski), John Mahoney (Chet Duncan), Penelope Ann Miller (Trina Baker), Aidan Quinn (Richard Baker), Kevin Weisman (Daniel Baker), Israel Broussard (Garrett).

At their worst, the films of Rob Reiner have an almost sickening sweetness to them – they try so hard to get you to like them, so hard to get you to cry, that I have resisted pretty much everything he has made since The American President 15 years ago. But at their best, and his new film Flipped is among his best as a director, that sweetness is more subdued and can be quite charming. Flipped is a movie about two young teenagers in the late 1950s, and how through the course of the years between Grades 2 and 8 they are drawn to each, repulsed from each other, and somehow find their ways back. Undoubtedly some will complain that in a politically turbulent time, Flipped makes no effort to look at life outside this 100% white, middle class neighborhood – but in the case of this movie, the decision works. After all, teenagers rarely look beyond their own lives, their own dashed loves, which to them is the most important thing in the world.

When Bryce Loski moves in across the street from her, Juli Baker falls irrevocably in love with him, even though they are both only 8 years old. She follows him around like a lost puppy dog, seemingly oblivious to the fact that he cannot stand her. By the 8th grade, she is still following, he is still ignoring, but their lives seem set. But then over the course of a year, things change for both of them. Soon it will be Bryce who cannot stop thinking about Juli, and Juli who wants nothing to do with him (hence the title of the movie).

Flipped gets the lives of young teenagers like this just how perfectly. They are confused about their own feelings, yet hormones have quite made them into sex obsessed maniacs yet. Instead, they are finding their way around the opposite sex – never quite sure of what to say, but trying to say it anyway. Feelings get confused when you realize that girl who you have ignored for years is actually quite interesting and attractive – even when your friends think you’re nuts.

The film is unabashedly sentimental and nostalgic. When people talk about the “good old days” of the 1950s, this is the world they are remembering, even if it doesn’t quite resemble real life. This is the world where the man made the money, and mom spent her days worrying about pie and keeping a good house. But as the movie progresses, reality does start edging in a little bit. Bryce’s dad (Anthony Edwards) isn’t quite the Leave to Beaver father figure he appears to be – not that he is a bad man, but he is one set in his ideas, disappointed by the things he has given up, and with the ability to lash out occasionally. The mothers, while they do tend to stick to the background, assert themselves when they need to. While this is a nostalgic film, it is also one that knows that the 1950s were not quite the time they appeared to be on TV.

Flipped is a film that I couldn’t help but like. It’s sweet and funny, but it never oversteps itself into that sickeningly sweet area that the Rob Reiner films of recent years have done. It does what it does quite well – and I was surprised by how moved I was by it. This is the best film Reiner has made in years.

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