Rob Reiner has been a great director. From the 1980s through the first couple years of the 1990s the man put out classic after classic, be it incredible comedies like The Is Spinal Tap, truly terrifying horror like Misery, unforgettable fantasy like The Princess Bride, or hard-hitting drama like A Few Good Men. Then came North, a film that was considered by many to be the worst film of 1994. In the 16 years since, Reiner has failed to make anything that’s earned the same level of critical acclaim as his early work. His newest film, Flipped, is the one to end the streak.
Adapted from the book by Wendelin Van Draanen, the film follows a young boy and a young girl as they grow up together in the late 50s and early 60s. Switching back and forth between their points of view, young Juli Baker (Madeline Carroll) has been in love with her neighbor, Bryce Loski (Callan McAuliffe), from the second she laid eyes on him in second grade. She loves everything about him, from his piercing brown eyes to the smell of his hair. As young boys are wont to do, however, Bryce rejects Juli completely, never embracing her love and actively trying to get rid of her. But as they enter the eighth grade, everything begins to change. Bryce begins to see Juli in a way that he’s never seen her before – but his change of heart may have come too late.
What stands out most about Flipped is its relationship with one of Reiner’s best films: Stand By Me. Almost a sequel in spirit, the movie implants a deep feeling of nostalgia, even for those who never lived in the era. Though the book on which the film is based is set in a more contemporary setting, moving the events to 1963 allowed Reiner to feed off of his own experience growing up, and that familiarity fuels the movie and gives it authenticity. The story itself is timeless and relatable to anyone, but the decision to make it a period piece brings it to another level.
The way Flipped is presented, first telling a story through the eyes and thoughts of Bryce and then again through the eyes and thoughts of Juli, could have easily been a disaster in less capable hands, but, surprisingly, the audience never feels bored by the repetition. Nearly every event in the film is told at least twice but, because you are so invested in the characters, you actually begin to eagerly anticipate what the other side of the story will be. There are scenes in which Bryce senses Juli’s emotions, but you’ll want to take that look behind the curtain and understand why she feels the way she does.
Occasionally souring the affair are more saccharine moments. While the movie doesn’t jam a fistful of sugar down your throat every chance it gets, it certainly doesn’t try to avoid doing so. The relationship between Bryce and his grandfather, played by John Mahoney, feels as though it was ripped right off the streets of Mayberry, but, fortunately, Bryce’s father, played by Anthony Edwards, is enough of an asshole to bring it all back down to reality.
Flipped is intermittently an overly sappy, overly simple period young love story, but it’s the film’s heart, reality, and creative storytelling that saves it. The cast is strong and the irregular structure works perfectly. Welcome back, Mr. Reiner.