Madeline Carroll as Juli Baker
Callan McAuliffe as Bryce Loski
Rebecca De Mornay as Patsy Loski
Anthony Edwards as Steven Loski
John Mahoney as Chet Duncan
Penelope Ann Miller as Trina Baker
Aidan Quinn as Richard Baker
Kevin Weisman as Daniel Baker
Cody Horn as Lynetta Loski
Directed by Rob Reiner
Based on the popular novel by Wendelin Van Draanen, “Flipped” tells the coming-of-age story of Juli Baker (Madeline Carroll) and her schoolgirl crush on neighbor Bryce Loski (Callan McAuliffe). Moving through six years of their young life, the film plays each scene twice with dueling narrator by either Juli or Bryce.
At the height of his career, Rob Reiner was, arguably, the most prolific (but still commercial) of American directors. For a solid decade, his resume reads like a list of modern classics, flawlessly jumping from romantic comedies like “When Harry Met Sally…” to top-of-the-line thrillers like “Misery.” Regardless of the genre, Reiner was turning out some truly amazing work.
Then, as can often be the case in Hollywood, his output hit a bump in the road and, for whatever reason, he wasn’t quite able to achieve the cinematic greatness of his earlier films.
That is, until now.
“Flipped” is a monumental triumph through and through for Reiner as well as for everyone else involved. A breath of fresh air, the movie works spectacularly well simply for the benefit of being so absolutely genuine. Yes, this is a melodrama. It is simple, sweet and sentimental and then dares to ask why, exactly, all of that can’t be wonderful.
Featuring a cast of actual actors rather than stars, Reiner finds some real magic in his two leads. Madeline Carroll is both adorably young and still present on-screen far beyond her years. Likewise, Australian newcomer Callan McAuliffe’s Bryce Laski comes off as a sort of all-American naturally charming type that makes the role feel so effortless. There’s a grand supporting cast as well, but this is Carroll and McAuliffe’s show. They certainly do not disappoint.
Unlike some of his other recent films (“The Bucket List,’ for instance), Reiner’s own ever-present youthfulness isn’t forced onto older characters to have them play to the audience. It’s as though he’s eliminated a step in the translation; young people being young comes across far clearer and more honest than old people rediscovering their youth. Instead, the film is simply about that sense of vitality. The simplicity of the delivery makes the feeling every bit more tangible.
In taking the present day novel and transposing it to the late 1950’s/early 1960’s, Reiner pulls in a tremendous amount of nostalgia, but never wallows in it. Even if one hasn’t lived through this specific time period, it’s not at all hard to latch onto the same emotions and love that Reiner has for the music, clothes and other ins and outs of daily life. The closest comparison for “Flipped” (and certainly consciously so on Reiner’s part) is to his own “Stand By Me,” a period piece with the same sort of youthful transcendence. There are moments where the film verges on the edge of trying to hard (we are, for instance, given a variation on the “What is Goofy?” conversation from “Stand By Me”) but most similarities Reiner offers against himself are a testament to the director playing to his strengths.
In his essay, “E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction,” the late David Foster Wallace offers an intriguing notion that post modernism and its inherent cynicism will give way to a new, formalist wave of media.
“The new rebels,” he writes, “might be artists willing to risk the yawn, the rolled eyes, the cool smile, the nudged ribs, the parody of gifted ironists, the ‘Oh, how banal.’ To risk accusations of sentimentality, melodrama. Of over-credulity. Of softness.”
While “Flipped” is hardly the first step of a cinematic revolution, its own simplicity is a huge part of its charm. This is a good story, well-told by talented and creative people. How on Earth is that something we’ve turned over to nostalgia?