“Something in those dazzling eyes”
Not until a few hours before checking out a screening of Rob Reiner’s new film Flipped did I know it was based on an award-winning young adult novel by celebrated author Wendelin Van Draanen. The title has double meaning with both the idea of ‘flipping’ over someone the way young lovers tend to do and the structural format of alternating between the complicated duo at its center, Juli Baker and Bryce Loski. Reiner, never subtle, transitions each segment with a top to bottom flip of the frame, showing the same events from the perspective of the other child, portraying how easy it is for two people to see a simple exchange completely different. What could have been a meaningless introduction back in 1957—a new family moving into the house across the street—makes seven year old Juli instantly smitten with the new boy in town. He may be trying his hardest to get away from her, but all the while she thinks he’s playing coy and shy, waiting to give her first kiss. It’s not until six years pass that the love/hate relationship comes to a head, the two kids growing and learning, both in life and in love.
Director of a childhood fantasy favorite of mine, The Princess Bride, Reiner thankfully looks to get back to telling well-written stories for the masses. It and Stand By Me was an adapted screenplay chock-full of heart, laughter, and truth. Flipped definitely finds itself with the latter in tone and its use of voiceover narration from the young leads. We as an audience aren’t simply looking in on this slice of life; we are experiencing it with both Juli (Madeline Carroll) and Bryce (Callan McAuliffe) as they are. There is a lot of introspection and second-guessing, their internal thoughts on display for us to process while hidden from the one their shyness prevents them from reaching. Like any twelve-year old children, Juli finds her infatuation and does her best to make it known, hoping to break her love from his shell, and Bryce receives the embarrassment of ‘cooties’ era lovey-dovey chiding by those macho-types his age. The more she pushes, the more he pulls away … and vice versa. But what makes this story transcend that simple romance dynamic are the details laid bare; familial troubles only discovered as age uncovers understanding.
It all begins with a giant sycamore tree slated for destruction. This tree was the bridge between the two kids—she discovered what it meant to be more than the sum of your parts by soaking in the landscape and world beneath her when at its peak, proving he was the boy for her, and he used its metaphorical meaning in a grade school song to avoid at all costs lest he be thrown right back into ‘K-I-S-S-I-N-G’ verses. Once gone, the void left could never have been imagined. Juli loses a lifeline to magnificence, riding her bike to school in an effort to excise the memory of its absence at the bus stop, and Bryce a venue to hear her incessant commentary, giving him something to find annoyance with rather than the surprise of missing it once gone. Maybe the story is a thinly veiled expression of gender evolution and the male sex’s ever-lagging behind progression too. Here’s a 13-year old girl finding maturity in the trials and tribulations of life with sacrifice, compromise, the miracle of birth, and the devastation of tragedy while a 13-year old boy discovers it’s okay to have feelings for a girl his friends deem unworthy. She had that figured out long before, so his long-awaited 180 not only comes off as forced, but it’s also no longer the most important thing in her life.
There is also something about the setting of 1960s suburbia helping make this story relatable across generations. The over-middle age audience members around me were reminiscing of a simpler time from experience—love the reaction when a high school girl invites two older boys up to see her room and no one bats an eye—the kids in the crowd laughing at the exaggerated expressions of the children onscreen, relating to the feelings and situations, and those my age seeing our youth mirrored in the actions, if ever so slightly changed. It may start out as an idyllic look into two families growing across from each other, the youngest offspring their connection, but soon those preconceptions are laid to waste as the real issues come forth. From the angrily regretful father taking his self-loathing out on those reaching for their dreams, (Anthony Edwards is actually pretty great, somewhat against usual type), to the compassionate bricklayer painting in his spare time, always putting family before himself, (Aidan Quinn is a definite standout), to the mothers caught in the middle, quiet due to the chauvinism of the decade, but also headstrong and unafraid to do what they know is right, (a welcome return to the big screen for both Rebecca De Mornay and Penelope Ann Miller), we watch the story become more than puppy love.
With an impeccable aesthetic and a steady hand on behalf of Reiner to make clichés like full narration—the whole move is literally told with it—a performance of mental handicap on behalf of actor Kevin Weisman that could easily have crossed the line of caricature, and the heightened state of expression of an era half a century gone, Flipped really does become a cute tale of growing up and discovering a world you never thought existed but was always there. The inclusion of John Mahoney’s sage grandfather Chet plays a huge role in opening the kids’ eyes to the stark reality at hand, lending an example to look to for guidance and support. But it is Carroll and McAuliffe who have to do the heavy lifting in projecting a constant metamorphosis of feeling from hatred to love to depression to joy to fear to sorrow and beyond. They take you on this journey into the lives of their characters, leading you through step by step as they recall what it was like. It is a pathway filled with more mistakes than probably hoped for, but that’s life. Their evolution amidst the fine acting surrounding them becomes more than enough reason to watch the film, leading you to care about the outcome and hope for the best.
Flipped 7/10 | ★ ★ ★
 (L-R) CALLAN McAULIFFE as Bryce Loski and MADELINE CARROLL as Juli Baker in Castle Rock Entertainment’s coming-of-age romantic comedy “FLIPPED,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo by Ben Glass
 (L-R) MADELINE CARROLL as Juli Baker and JOHN MAHONEY as Chet Duncan in Castle Rock Entertainment’s coming-of-age romantic comedy “FLIPPED,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures