Directed by Rob Reiner
Starring Maddy Carroll, John Mahoney, Callan McAuliffe, Aidan Quinn, Rebecca DeMornay, Anthony Edwards, Penelope Ann Miller
Written by Reiner and Andrew Scheinman based upon the book by Wendelin Van Draanen
Rob Reiner has quietly put together one of the greatest directorial resumes of the last 30 years. The style and category is incredibly varied, but the success has been the same regardless: This is Spinal Tap, Stand By Me, When Harry Met Sally, The Sure Thing, The Princess Bride, A Few Good Men, Misery, The American President, Rumor Has It, The Bucket List. He’s had some less successful films, but they almost always seemed to be the movies that he wanted to make. They were never truly bad films. In fact, in the case of Flipped, he has made a film that qualifies as great, if lesser known. Based on an award-winning and critically acclaimed teen book that actually takes place from the years 1994-2000. I mention this because the movie takes place during the late 50’s to early 60’s. This is right in Reiner’s and co-screenwriter Scheinman’s wheelhouse. This allowed for a more accurate vision of the film from a time of which they had intimate knowledge. It also showed just how timeless a tale they were telling.
The essence of Flipped is the power to present different points of view in a very real way. Going over the same events from a boy named Bryce’s point of view and then his girl counterpart, Julianna’s vantage shows just how easy it is for simple misunderstandings to seem bigger than they are. As a child one can remember how seemingly negative actions of counterparts at school could have appeared anything but random. As a parent, one tries to impart this idea on their own children. It’s not always so easy to understand the concept that’s being shared. This movie shows the concept in action. Julianna and Bryce are portrayed as deeply feeling, but also somewhat flawed individuals by Carroll and (more so) McAuliffe. Both are prone, of course, to misjudgment. Each, however, is also discovering at their own pace and time, that these misjudgments might be tied to their situation, as well the situation of others. Having experience and being willing to question yourself is an important part of growing beyond one’s mistakes. Both actors do an excellent job of displaying the emotions behind these thought processes. It could not have been easy, but having voice over work helps.
Another, very powerful point of view presented without the crutch of a voiceover is that of the experienced outsider, Bryce’s widower Grandfather Chet Duncan. John Mahoney shows how to perceive the real value of people, rather than the pessimistic, or even cowardly point of view that can be presented behind a closed-door or a closed mind. His scenes and character are pivotal to the story, as you can see that his experience has granted him perspective that his younger counterparts just don’t have at this point in the story. It is important to note that it takes a while for this voice of experience to be heard. In fact, it is Julianna that he spends most of his time with, after Bryce ignores his initial advice.
To me, Mahoney presents the most interesting character. Too old to waste days hoping that his grandkid will understand his wise advice, he chooses the more interesting of the two kids to spend time with because, well, why wait? He hasn’t lost hope in Bryce, but he is beyond sitting on the sidelines. Mahoney has an easy style, with a face that shows a depth of feeling and experience. His casting (among a stellar cast) was crucial to the film’s success at storytelling.
The rest of the stellar cast is like a who’s who of character actors, or headliners from the 80’s and 90’s. DeMornay and Miller show, essentially the same side of the coin, for women before the summer of love (the bulk of the film takes place in 1963, before Kennedy is assassinated). The key to each character is a kindness and a lack of judgement. The interesting thing about this is, even on one street, both housewives are in different segments of society. Familiar strangers have they been until this point, but not entirely by choice. Circumstance and their husband’s bias’ has prevented them from being closer until now. It’s not entirely clear to the reviewer the difference in the roles from the book, but suffice to say, in the year 2000, housewives have a bit more leverage.
The father figures, as portrayed by Edwards (Bryce’s dad) and Quinn (Julianna’s), are given a bit more range, but not much. Each paterfamilias of the story are big influences to the two procrastinators. In Bryce’s Dad, you see someone insecure, and stuck by choice in “the way it should be.” Edwards, normally a wizened voice and a softer touch, shows the insecurity exceptionally. Quinn, however, gives the dignified performance as the artistic, working poor. His family’s setback is in the form of his brother, who has been mentally challenged since being born with an umbilical cord wrapped around his neck. There is not far to go with his character, but Quinn takes it as far as it could go. He is a dedicated son, brother and father. He is a painter in his free time, and he does not own much in the world.
If there is a limitation in the story, it is the angelic nature attributed to both Julianna and her father. Each decision they make is noble, and it is up to Bryce to overcome his father’s bias and see it. This does happen, sure, but the journey is not so equal between the two leads. Bryce needs to flip from not liking Julianna to liking her. Julianna, however, really only needs to flip from being hurt by Bryce to waiting for the guy with pretty eyes to see her more clearly. This is a small quibble, though. As one who is a big fan of the fairer species, I enjoy anything that shows what I already know: girls are the best.
(****1/2 out of *****)