With its nostalgic tone, 1960s setting, and a story revolving around children on the cusp of teenagehood, there was the hope that "Flipped," based on the novel by Wendelin Van Draanen, would be a sort of cousin to 1986's coming-of-age classic "Stand by Me." Those expecting a return to writer-director Rob Reiner's (2007's "The Bucket List
") filmmaking heyday, however, are best to set their expectations low. "Flipped" isn't a bad film, but it is a rather bland and indifferent one that never quite finds its footing or captures the emotional truth it is going for. It also hugely pales in comparison to 2005's "Little Manhattan
" and 2007's "Bridge to Terabithia
," other recent pictures centering on middle school-aged love and friendship.
13-year-old Juli Baker (Madeline Carroll) has been wild about Bryce Loski (Callan McAuliffe) ever since the day, about five years ago, when his family moved in across the street from her. Despite her best attempts to be his friend, Bryce has never given her the time of day. Now, as an eighth grader with burgeoning hormones, Bryce sees Juli in a whole new light. The only problem is she has finally moved on, let down by him one too many times and deciding that his character is much less than the sum of his parts. It is now up to Bryce to prove to Juli that he's a good person worthy of her attention. Based on his unsavory actions, he has a hard enough time proving the same thing to the audience.
Told from the alternating points-of-view of Juli Baker and Bryce Loski, "Flipped" is something of a frustratingand certainly repetitiveexperience. Scene after scene is replayed as each protagonist has their turn telling the story "Rashomon"-style, and since Juli and Bryce are always of differing outlooks, the two of them can never really get together for any satisfying period of time and develop a friendship. When Juli is still infatuated by Bryce, he consistently gives her the cold shoulder, even turning his back on her when she pleads for his help in saving the beloved neighborhood tree she likes to climb that is about to be cut down. Later, he makes a snarky comment about her family's unkempt front yard and is caught red-handed tossing out the farm-fresh eggs Juli has been gifting him and his family with daily. When the tables are turned and Bryce pursues Juli, he proves to be selfish and lack a backbone, laughing along rather than standing up for her when friend Garrett (Israel Broussard) puts Juli down and completely ignoring classmate Sherry (Ashley Taylor) after she bids fifty dollars to have lunch with him at the school's fundraising auction. Bryce is so egotistical, putting his wants and feelings before everyone else's, that it is difficult to root for him in any lasting capacity. Juli seems better off without him.
Even if the sparring relationship at its center is a wash, at least writer-director Rob Reiner and co-writer Andrew Scheinman (2000's "Bait
") somewhat accurately portray what it is like to be thirteenan age old enough to start viewing the world and all its possibilities as a whole lot more vast than the four walls of one's home. Though a family film, Reiner also doesn't sugarcoat family problemsJuli's parents, Richard (Aidan Quinn) and Trina (Penelope Ann Miller), argue over financial issues, while Bryce's father, Steven (Anthony Edwards), in one harsh scene, takes out the frustrations and regrets he has over his past by slapping teenage daughter Lynetta (Cody Horn). Disappointingly, this latter subplot is never resolved and overlooked by the end. Better is the character of Bryce's widowed grandfather Chet (John Mahoney), who takes an empathetic liking to Juli and sees the same inner spirit in her that he saw in his late wife.
Madeline Carroll (2008's "Swing Vote
") is a lovely young actress who, at fourteen, brings the sort of depth to her character of Juli that many performers twice or three times her age often have trouble pulling off. She overshadows newcomer Callan McAuliffe, as Bryce, partially because she exhibits more charisma than him and also because Juli is a notably more likable character. Possibly because of how Bryce has been written, McAuliffe has trouble working his way into the viewer's good graces. As Juli's sympathetic father Richard, Aidan Quinn (2010's "The Eclipse
") is warm and down-to-earth, caring for a family that also includes a mentally disabled younger brother Daniel (Kevin Weisman). As good as Quinn is, a sequence where Richard and Juli travel to spend the day with Daniel, who lives at a special care facility, is gratingly over-the-top. As Daniel, Kevin Weisman (2006's "Clerks II
") brings nothing subtle to the part; he plays it so broadly, in fact, that it is cause for awkward laughs and the feeling that he'd be right at home in a bad-taste spoof movie about people with handicaps.
"Flipped" has its heart in the right place, sure, but it never takes off. The soundtrack is filled with '60s pop hits, but they are uninspired in their use and placement. The movie spends so much time moving back and forth between Juli and Bryce as they spar with one another that it carves out no time to actually show their relationship after they make amends and meet each other halfway. By the time this finally happens, the end credits roll and the viewer is left with the curious feeling that these two kids could very easily get into an argument five minutes later and not like each other again. Chances of a future between them at their age doesn't seem likely and director Rob Reiner fails to present them believably as soul mates. Without even tackling the other optionmaking the point that their romance might not last, but the memories of their time together will"Flipped" finally presents itself as inconsequential and, honestly, not particularly wise.