"Only a Scrooge would not like this film."
Actor, writer, producer, and director Rob Reiner is no stranger to films for and/or about children ("Stand By Me," "The Princess Bride"), so "Flipped," his 2010 romance involving childhood friends, should have been a cinch. But I wonder who he considered his audience going in? With the exception of a nostalgia angle, the film's story of young love in the 1960's doesn't really have the adult appeal of his better films. It is a sweet picture, so possibly adults looking for wholesome family entertainment for their kids may qualify. Surely, though, it would hold little interest for young boys or older teens. That leaves a film mainly for young girls. Is there really a viewership there? If it's vampires, perhaps. Apparently not for this movie, however, as it bombed big time at the box office. Maybe Reiner just makes films nowadays that he personally enjoys making, and profits be damned. If so, I admire his attitude. I just didn't care for his picture, charming as it sometimes is.
Although Reiner, who co-wrote, co-produced, and directed the story, adapted it from a popular children's novel by Wendelin Van Draanen, what works in a book doesn't always translate well to the screen. For instance, there is the story's primary gimmick of seeing the same events through the eyes of both young protagonists, Juli Baker (Madeline Carroll) and Bryce Luski (Callan McAuliffe). It's a clever device, this "flipping" business, and works well enough for a while before it begins to grate. Nor does it help that the alternating points of view require a good deal of voice-over narration to help them succeed as far as they do. Before long, we get the nagging suspicion someone is reading the book aloud to us.
Anyway, the plot begins in 1957 when Bryce and his family move into a new neighborhood, directly across the street from Juli and her parents. For Juli it's essentially love at first sight; or at first contact, as they inadvertently touch hands for a moment. From that point until the movie flash forwards to junior high, Juli pursues Bryce. From Bryce's perspective, Juli is chasing him, and he hates it ("All I ever wanted was for Juli Baker to leave me alone"). From Juli's point of view, Bryce is simply shy and needs a little nudging to see things her way. And so it goes, with their relationship experiencing the typical ups and downs of youthful friendship.
The young actors are terrific in their roles and make an attractive couple. Which leads the cynic in me to think maybe they're too perfect. They are both such beautiful people, they look almost like the Ken and Barbie dolls of the Sixties. I know it's the movies, and people in them generally appear more ideal than people do in real life, but if they had been more ordinary looking, I might have been more sympathetic to their situation. On the other hand, if Reiner meant the movie as a satire, maybe he intended them to remind us of Ken and Barbie. Unlikely, but you never know.
The supporting cast, too, works well, filled as it is with veteran performers. Penelope Ann Miller and Aidan Quinn play Juli's mother and father, the father, a bricklayer and amateur artist, the more interesting member of the family. Rebecca De Mornay and Anthony Edwards play Bryce's mother and father, the father especially irritable for deep-seated but unknown reasons and, thus, the most emotionally complex character in the whole film. Rounding out the major supporting players is John Mahoney as Bryce's knowing old grandfather, living with the family since the death of his wife and frequently imparting morsels of wisdom to Bryce.
Then, to add further spice to the story, we learn early on that Juli's family has less money than Bryce's family, less money to take care of their house, less money even to buy their house, which they've been renting for the past twelve years. The difference in the families' finances provides the story line with a further Romeo and Juliet contrast.
How much you take to the film may depend upon how much you enjoy watching beauteous sunsets or saving favorite trees or hatching baby chicks or shedding tears on occasion. The movie offers a little something for the warm heart in everyone. Yet there is a point where sweetness turns to sugar, and while there is no doubt the film is winsome and appealing, it can sometimes turn sappy as well. Even Marc Shaiman's original music, interspersed with vintage pop tunes, can be more than a bit syrupy.
At first, "Flipped" is pretty engaging, until we realize that not a lot of things in it are very original, funny, dramatic, revealing, or exciting. It really is a slice-of-life picture, with plenty of everyday goings-on but without the universal humor of, say, "A Christmas Story," which the youthful memories and narration in "Flipped" resemble. Instead, "Flipped" comes off closer to a children's after-school TV special; a good one, but you get the idea.
I think what disappointed me most about "Flipped" is that, my having lived as a youth through almost the same years covered by the movie, it perpetuates several of the myths about the era. For example, the women in the movie, the mothers, wear dresses and pearls around the house each day. And the students at Juli and Bryce's all-white, Midwestern junior high school look like youngsters from "Ozzie and Harriet." The school buildings look perfect, the teachers look perfect, the students look perfect. Heck, the students even speak perfect English, something I never encountered in forty years of teaching English at four different high schools in four different cities. And even though it's around 1963 when the bulk of the story unfolds, there is not a word about the political or social upheavals of the period. Again, as parody the film might have worked in this sterile vacuum it creates. Yet there is no indication that Reiner was striving for satire anywhere in the story or characters.
"Flipped" is, in short, a fairy tale, an idealized memory. If you accept it as such, it will work just fine, and it certainly makes suitable viewing for a family with young children, particularly young girls. But for this adult, it was mostly humdrum and predictable.
Warners use a single-layer BD25 and an MPEG-4 codec to transfer the movie to Blu-ray in probably as good a representation of its original print as possible. The image is slightly soft and dull, to be sure, but it's not entirely unnatural. While object detail can sometimes be a bit murky, especially in darker scenes, actual outline delineation is fairly good, black levels are adequate, and there are no obvious signs of digital manipulation.
It's a fairly routine soundtrack, so the lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 reproduction is no doubt overkill. The film is largely dialogue driven, though filled with old tunes, which are the only things needing a bit of dynamic range and surround help. Otherwise, the sound is clean, clear, and quiet. It does its job.
The extras are brief and expected. The first is the featurette "Flipped: Anatomy of a Near Kiss," about three minutes on the subject of the two young leads kissing on camera. The next three featurettes are exclusive to Blu-ray: "The Differences Between a Boy and a Girl," six minutes on the chemistry between the leads; "Embarrassing Egg-scuses," five minutes on raising chickens, as Juli does in the movie; and "How to Make the Perfect Volcano," five minutes on Bryce's science project. Not the most scintillating stuff, I know.
Among the other bonuses is a standard-definition DVD of the film, with a digital copy for iTunes and Windows Media (the offering expiring November 21, 2011); ten scene selections; a slipcover for the Blu-ray case; English and Spanish spoken languages; Spanish subtitles; and English captions for the hearing impaired.
Any romantic movie will affect a viewer in different ways, depending, I suppose, on how sentimental one is, what frame of mind one is in, and what circumstances similar to those in the movie one has experienced, positive or negative. With "Flipped," it's hard to make a firm judgment about the film's worth. One minute it's got you bawling, the next cringing, one's own emotions rising and falling as fast as those of the characters. Overall, I'd say if you want a wholesome, ultimately feel-good film about young love, this might be it. Or not. If you're looking for something more stimulating in a romance, less common and mainstream, this isn't it.
Incidentally, if you're seriously looking for a good family film about young love, and you haven't already seen it, I urge you to seek out "A Little Romance," the 1979 romantic comedy from George Roy Hill. It's an unqualified delight.