Flipped (Warner Bros. Pictures, PG)

Narration can be a real momentum-killer even when used skillfully, and in this case it completely prevents the audience from investing emotionally in the events on screen.

Rob Reiner’s Flipped takes what could have been a charming coming-of-age story and buries it beneath layers of cinematic overkill that push you away from the film when they should be drawing you in.
The story concerns two children growing up across the street from each other in a leafy small town in late 1950s-early 1960s America. Juli Baker (Madeline Carroll) falls in love with Bryce Loski (Callan McAuliffe) the moment she sets eyes on him. Unfortunately, the kids are in second grade at the time and as far as Bryce is concerned, girls are just icky. But Juli isn’t one to give up easily. She persists in her unrequited affections for Bryce until the 8th grade when, as the title suggests, their roles are reversed and he becomes attracted to her just as she’s finally had enough of him. Can this relationship be saved? You can guess the answer, so the merits of the film depend on how it gets to its predetermined conclusion.
Unfortunately, the script—by Reiner and Andrew Scheinman, adapted from a young adult novel by Wendelin Van Draanen—insists on laying on its life lessons with a trowel. Most fatally, the film plays every scene twice (literally) with alternating points of view and heavy use of voice-over narration. This means that every important event in the film is really presented four times: as narrated by Juli, as acted from Juli’s point of view, as narrated by Bryce and as acted from Bryce’s point of view.
Narration can be a real momentum-killer even when used skillfully, and in this case it completely prevents the audience from investing emotionally in the events on screen. Instead, you just feel annoyed at being told the same thing over and over again. It’s a shame, because Carroll and McAuliffe are both capable young actors who are able to show us how their characters feel. The voiceovers are superfluous and suggest that Reiner didn’t trust them to get the job done. Or perhaps he didn’t trust his audience to be able to interpret what they were seeing or to appreciate that different people often view the same event differently. Even small children can follow complex narratives such as the Harry Potter novels and films, so it’s hard to believe that he felt this was necessary, but I’m not sure what other conclusion to draw.
Flipped takes place in a virtual vacuum—the sense of chronology is created by music, costumes and set dressing; there’s absolutely no reference to political events, such as the Nixon-Kennedy debates or the Cuban missile crisis, which took place during the period covered by the film. However, the script still manages to work in some “big issues” like poverty, courage and tolerance. For example, the Baker family does not keep their yard up to the spotless standards of Bryce’s dad (Anthony Edwards, in a thankless role that requires him to be a hateful caricature of suburban conformity). The reason behind this apparent disregard of neighborhood standards is revealed in a shameless bit of guilt-tripping, with a parallel between the two families that is simply too neat to be believable.
Flipped shares some characteristics with one of Reiner’s best films, Stand by Me. Both highlight period music, focus on the emotional growth of a young protagonist and work in a pseudo-serious discussion of popular culture. But where that film felt honest, this one just feels forced. The only thing in Flipped that feels real is John Mahoney’s performance as Bryce’s grandfather, who acts as a bridge between the families and manages to deliver even the most blatantly moralizing lines in a way that seems natural. | Sarah Boslaugh

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