September 10, 2010 in Features

Review: ‘Flipped’ an uneven coming-of-age film

Jake Coyle Associated Press

“Checkered” would be too kind of a way to characterize Rob Reiner’s recent filmography as a director.

The last decade has included the romantic comedies “Rumor Has It …” and “Alex & Emma,” and his last film, 2007s’ “The Bucket List.”

It’s been a while since his incredible start in the 1980s: “This Is Spinal Tap,” “The Sure Thing,” “Stand by Me,” “The Princess Bride” and “When Harry Met Sally …”

Reiner’s latest, “Flipped,” has been billed as a return to form for the director and a companion piece to “Stand By Me.” Like that film, “Flipped” is a coming-of-age ode to youth cloaked in mid-century Americana (the early 1960s).

It’s the kind of film that’s nostalgic for nostalgia. There’s charm here and some honest observations of adolescence.

But there’s also a willful, cloying datedness to the movie – like a lost episode of “The Wonder Years” or an “Archie” comic strip.

“Flipped” – and its ’50s-’60s jukebox soundtrack – opens with Curtis Lee’s “Pretty Little Angel Eyes” and a close-up of a 7-year-old Juli Baker (Morgan Lily; the older Juli is later played by Madeline Carroll).

She’s there on Bonnie Meadow Lane to greet her new neighbors moving in, and she immediately falls for Bryce Loski (Ryan Ketzner, later played by Callan McAuliffe) and his “dazzling eyes.”

He responds by hiding behind his mother, and continues to go to extremes to avoid Juli. “My life had become a minefield,” he says.

The film tracks these two through childhood, spending most of the time at age 13, when Bryce is beginning to soften to Juli’s long-held crush.

Reiner co-wrote the script with Andrew Scheinman (a producer from many of Reiner’s best), adapting Wendelin Van Draanen’s 2001 young adult novel.

Though Reiner has shifted the book’s present-day setting, he has kept its central device: switching back and forth between the perspectives of Bryce and Juli, each narrating their version of the same events.

Perspective is the plaything of “Flipped.” Juli – idealistic and unusually wise – keeps a sacred perch atop a neighborhood sycamore tree.

Bryce’s family (Anthony Edwards plays his cynical father, Rebecca De Mornay his kinder mother) judges Juli’s family (Aidan Quinn as her likable father, Penelope Ann Miller as her mother) for their ugly front lawn.

Bryce comes to see Juli differently after his grandfather (John Mahoney), observing his late wife in her, rhapsodizes that she’s “iridescent.”

The strength of “Flipped” is in its trueness to humdrum adolescence. It’s filled not with extravagant dramas, but instead portrays how seemingly minor happenings take on grand meaning: the tragic tearing down of the cherished tree, the terrifying formality of a sit-down dinner, the frightening awkwardness of nearly everything.

But the “flipped” device becomes a contrivance that doesn’t hide the movie’s lack of emotional momentum. Though it makes clumsy stabs at life’s difficulties with a mentally retarded brother-in-law and an out-of-place bit of domestic violence, the film lacks the darkness of “Stand By Me” – and its jokes, too.

It relies too much on “Leave it to Beaver” period fetishizing: bicycles on the front lawn, neatly parted hair, baseball pennants on a boy’s wall, white people everywhere.

But among the frequently loud, chaotic films aimed at young adults, “Flipped” is a mostly welcome if still somewhat disappointing inversion.

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