What It Is
In 1957, Bryce (Ryan Ketzner as a child, Callan McAuliffe as an eighth grader) moves with his family into a new neighborhood. Across the street, he spots Juli (Morgan Lily, then Madeline Carroll), and both their lives are changed. From now on, through to 1963, when Flipped ends, the kids will be flirting, fighting, and trying to figure out how they feel about each other.
Their reactions to each other tend to be predictable, according to their mostly opposing perspectives — which are laid out plainly in alternating voiceovers that describe how they see the same events very differently. So, Bryce first sees Juli as a pest, whom he tries to avoid right away, and she imagines not only that he’s looking into her eyes, but also that he will “be my first kiss.”
Based on Wendelin Van Draanen’s coming of age novel (which is set now, not during 1957-’63), the film includes a second source of discord, the kids’ different class backgrounds. Bryce’s family is solidly middle class, his mom Patsy (Rebecca DeMornay) and father Steven (Anthony Edwards) pleased with their own status (and occasionally judgmental of others), and his older sister Lynetta (Cody Horn) an eminently sensible teenager. By contrast, Juli’s parents, Trina (Penelope Ann Miller) and Richard (Aidan Quinn), struggle daily to make ends meet.
Bright, energetic, and compassionate, Juli devotes herself to causes. She protects a sycamore tree the city wants to tear down, turns a school science project into a small business (she has a brood of hens who lay eggs), and cleans up her shabby front yard with the help of Bryce’s grandfather, Chet (the excellent John Mahoney).
When he admires her spirit (“That girl has an iron backbone!”), Bryce feels jealous. He also feels charmed, self-conscious, and mystified as he watches Juli from across the street for years, sometimes all at once. When they do meet up — at the bus stop, in classes, or in the library — the children are believably awkward and inarticulate, never quite saying what they mean. At the same time, they share confidences with friends or relatives (Chet is an especially useful sounding board for both), and in the process, start to understand themselves and each other just a little bit better.
The trick in all this is that while Bryce and Juli talk a lot throughout the film to everyone else, it’s only at the end, six years after they first meet, that they realize they can begin a friendship — by talking with each other. It’s the start of being grown ups.
Why It’s Fun
In a word: Madeline Carroll. This 14-year-old has all kinds of charisma but also a sense of nuance (unlike most child performers, instructed to make their expressions as broad as possible). Before now, she’s appeared mostly as a television guest star, in shows ranging from Lost to Cold Case; she also survived a turn as the scary, ephemeral White Queen in Resident Evil: Extinction and did very well as Kevin Costner’s wise-beyond-her-years daughter in Swing Vote. Here Carroll makes good use of her chance to stretch, managing comedy and melodrama with poise. Her scenes with Aidan Quinn and John Mahoney are especially fine.
The film is also beautifully shot and spends most of its time on the kids as they sort out what they want, what they need to know, and how they can get along in a confusing adult world.
Who’s Going To Love It
Fans of the book will likely appreciate the translation to screen, even though it is set during a different time period. This era — the late ’50s into the early ’60s — recalls that of director Rob Reiner’s Stand By Me (set in 1959), evoking a kind of simplistic “innocence.” Such nostalgia has limits, of course, as it omits other, world-changing experiences at the time (say, the Civil Rights Movement, the Cold War), but as such, Flipped is mostly endearing.
What To Be Aware Of
The choice of music soundtrack is heavy-handed (describing in lyrics how Bryce or Juli are feeling, whether melancholy or longing or joy), an assortment of golden oldies (the Chiffons’ “He’s So Fine,” the Drifters’ “There Goes My Baby,” Dion and the Belmonts’ “A Teenager In Love,” etc.) designed to appeal to the adults who accompany kids to this movie.
Juli’s family’s money issues are to a certain extent based on her father’s determination to look after his brother, Daniel (Kevin Weisman), brain-damaged at birth. (He lives at a private facility, rather than a public institution.) This leads to two issues. First, Bryce and his friends make fun of Juli’s “retard” uncle (and Bryce has to learn a difficult lesson about how umbilical cords can be twisted around babies’ necks). And second, Juli goes to visit Daniel with Richard, she watches in shock as Daniel becomes loudly upset in public and then moves on immediately, gentle and complacent as he has been just a minute before. The scene is disturbing (and movie-wise, a little stereotypical), but Juli tells her parents she’s “glad” she’s finally met the uncle she and her neighbors have heard so much about.
Bryce is so unnerved by his feelings for Juli that for most of the movie, he’s lying to her — and his family — in order to keep his secret. He usually lies about minor things, and tries too hard to keep up a good front at school (the other kids think she’s funny-looking and poor). But he doesn’t take into consideration how she might see it. This being a coming of age story, his selfishness has a cost: when she inevitably finds out, Juli’s very hurt.
As Bryce and his best friend (who boasts and acts out repeatedly) try to determine some background for Juli’s chickens, he says his friend “doesn’t know jack shit about chickens.” It’s an odd burst of language, but the idea has some resonance. Bryce is also ignorant about many matters, and for a good while, he talks a big, false game as well.
Lynetta and her father have a pretty fierce argument, where she calls him an “asshole,” he slaps her, and she tells him to “go to hell.” It’s a dramatic moment that helps you see how Stephen’s smug judgments are annoying his daughter as much as they are you.
7 out of 10
Director: Rob Reiner
Cast: Madeleine Carroll, Callan McAuliffe, Anthony Edwards, Aidan Quinn, Penelope Ann Miller, Rebecca De Mornay, John Mahoney, Morgan Lily
Studio: Warner Bros.
US Premiere: August 27, 2010