With Madeline Carroll, Callan McAuliffe, Aidan Quinn, John Mahoney, Anthony Edwards. Directed by Rob Reiner. Rated PG for language and some thematic material. 90 minutes.
FLIPPED is an utterly charming coming-of-age movie that deserves to be widely seen instead of dumped into the end-of-summer wasteland. Clearly, the film’s distributor doesn’t know what it has here and is looking to quickly usher it through its theatrical window on its way to cable and DVD. In fact, this is director Rob Reiner’s best film in years.
We first meet Bryce Loski as a seven-year-old moving into a suburban neighborhood where he immediately attracts the attention of Juli Baker, a little girl who falls in love with him. Few second grade boys crave this kind of attention, but by eighth grade, after years of doing everything he could to get rid of her, Bryce (Callan McAuliffe) finds he’s very interested in Juli (Madeline Carroll). The problem is, she’s gotten fed up with him.
Set in the late ’50s and early ’60s – with a great musical soundtrack to match – it’s as much about how children of that era learned about the grown up world as about each other. Bryce’s father (Anthony Edwards) clearly loves his family but just as clearly has a bitter side that expresses itself in contempt for the Bakers. Her father (Aidan Quinn) doesn’t have the best kept up front yard in the neighborhood, and we slowly learn why. The mothers (Rebecca DeMornay, Penelope Ann Miller) are more sensitive to such things, but have to sometimes work around their strong-willed husbands.
The “gimmick” of the film is, based on a novel by Wendelin Van Draanen, is that we see scenes from Bryce’s perspective and then from Juli’s, sometimes discovering things that we didn’t know the first time. As they reach junior high school, we also see they lack the experience to be able to navigate the emotional waters they’re entering. It’s Bryce’s widower grandfather (John Mahoney) who cuts through a lot of the nonsense as he sees something in Juli that reminds him of his late wife.
Fans of Reiner’s films may think this will be another “Stand By Me,” but that was a very different coming-of-age film about confronting death and what it means to be a man. This film is more about romance and thus is more of a piece with “When Harry Met Sally…” and, even more so, “The Sure Thing.” This is about very young love, with Juli convinced that Bryce is the one with whom she will share her first kiss.
The two young leads are marvelous, as is the adult cast. The film takes a while to find its footing, as we’re wondering why we should care about a seven-year0old being taunted about an unwanted “girlfriend.” Yet as we come to know the two characters and see them begin the transition to adolescence, we find a lot to like about them. We also see them discover that their parents are fallible human beings, capable of greatness or falling short. It’s all about growing up.
Unless Castle Rock is hoping that “Flipped” will turn into one of those late summer “sleeper” hits that will play well into the fall, there’s a sense that this movie is being dumped. That’s a shame. In a year with a lot of disappointments at the movies, here’s a reason to cheer.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, the most recent being I’ll Have What She’s Having: Behind The Scenes Of The Great Romantic Comedies. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville.