Directed By: Rob Reiner
Starring: Madeline Carroll, Callan McAuliffe, Anthony Edwards, Aidan Quinn, Rebecca De Mornay, Penelope Ann Miller, John Mahoney, Morgan Lily, Ryan Ketzner
When little kids have an imaginary tea party or action figure battle, tossing in an unimaginative parent could completely ruin the fun. What once felt real could be suddenly spoiled by a wise adult. There’s no rule barring adults from coming of age movies, but in Flipped’s case there should be. What starts off as a beautifully innocent tale of two teens navigating their confusing feelings for one another, is stomped all over and tarnished by painfully overdone grownup nonsense.
Juli Baker’s (Madeline Carroll) had a crush on Bryce Loski (Callan McAuliffe) since the day Bryce moved to town. They were just seven-years-old, but Juli was positive Bryce would be her first kiss. The problem is, Bryce didn’t share the sentiment. In fact, he couldn’t stand Juli and still can’t six years later. He hates her barren yard, when she announces the school bus’ ETA block-by-block from the top of a sycamore tree and even when she just attempts to be neighborly and bring his family batches of eggs from the hens she owns. Bryce shuns just about everything Juli does until an inexplicable feeling begins to creep up inside of him; maybe he likes her a little bit too.
Flipped is just a simple tale of two young kids managing their often hazy feelings for one another and that simplicity works in its favor, but against it as well. The film kicks off during that first encounter when a pre-teen Juli insists on helping Bryce and his father move their belongings from the moving truck into the house, but quickly shifts to their days in the eighth grade. Two kids falling for one another at 13 or 14-years-old is going to be a juvenile romance and Reiner does a fantastic job exemplifying that innocence. Both Bryce and Juli are thoughtful and compassionate, especially compared to their classmates, but they’re not so wise beyond their years that their behavior seems unnatural.
What is unnatural is everything around them. None of the adult characters are mature; they’re all on a similar level as Bryce and Juli, but what works for the kids is an absolute disaster for the parents. The dialogue is so simplistic it comes across as mindless. Making matters worse, every adult in the film seems as though they were pulled straight from a 50s sitcom. They blurt out cliché after cliché from the time period and behave as though they’ve merely been instructed to set themselves back 60 years and it feels contrived.
Even worse, Anthony Edwards’ portrayal of Bryce’s father is atrocious and the combination of bad acting and a poorly developed character is detrimental. Luckily, Aidan Quinn pulls off a few moving moments with his family, somewhat salvaging the film’s older generation. His relationship with Juli feels real and when he gets mad, unlike Edwards, you don’t get the urge to laugh. The one element of his storyline that’s out of place is a situation with his mentally debilitated brother. Juli, who’s never met her uncle, agrees to accompany her father on his weekly trip to the institution. It plays out exactly how you’d expect; she’s apprehensive then meets her uncle and he grows on her, trouble comes in the form of a breakdown and Juli learns a valuable lesson. Good for her, but the only thing the film gets out of the whole scenario is an easy route to a nasty joke that makes Juli second think her feelings for Bryce.
This happens quite a lot in Flipped. Perhaps the story plays out better in Wendelin Van Draanen’s novel, but on screen it’s far too thin. Outbursts are unjustified, relationships are underdeveloped and very little manages to evoke an emotion in the viewer. What makes Flipped worth seeing is Carroll and McAuliffe. They’re undeniably natural, passionate, clearly connected to their characters and, most importantly, their chemistry is organic. Not only are they radiant on screen, but both deliver impressive voiceovers as well. Reiner successfully puts a point-of-view swapping technique to use, telling the story from Bryce’s perspective and then switching off to Juli’s on the same event. At first it’s quite jarring, but thanks to the likeability of both kids and their effective voice work, the flips eventually become seamless.
Flipped could have been much better, but that’s not to say it’s not worth a viewing. It isn’t as endearing as one would hope, but McAuliffe and Carroll make enough of a positive impression to make it enjoyable. However, that enjoyment stops once the credits role. It’s a satisfactory experience while you’re watching it, but after the fact, you won’t be thinking about the film itself, rather the next time McAuliffe and Carroll can take the lead in a film on a par with their caliber.
By Perri Nemiroff