What’s Right and What’s Wrong
Everything that is wrong with The Movies today in America is beautifully encapsulated in Rob Reiner’s Flipped. Oh, not in the film itself, which is a charming little coming-of-age teen romance. It’s in how a lovely movie that’s truly suitable for the whole family cannot find an audience in the current movie environment.
Flipped, as you may have heard (but probably not!) is currently playing on 28 screens across North America — it added two last weekend! — which is down from its initial limited early August release: 45 screens in Los Angeles, Sacramento, and Austin. It was supposed to go wide on August 27 (wide means 800-plus screens), but poor showings in those three cities made Warner Bros. decide to pull back. Why the poor showings? There’s lots of reasons: Warner never pushed the film (where was the saturation TV advertising other movies get?). Audiences who knew about the movie skipped it, perhaps, in favor of films with more spectacle-bang for their outrageous-multiplex-admission buck: if you’re gonna pay $10, $11, $12 or more for a flick, the general consensus seems to be that it had better have CGI aliens exploding in one’s face in 3D, or somesuch. Or perhaps moviegoers who would have been drawn to it figured it would be okay to wait for DVD, and give a miss to the generally awful multiplex experience one typically encounters these days (rude audiences, overpriced concessions, etc.).
That’s the problem with The Movies today: small, beautiful films can garner no more than arthouse attention from serious film fans, even when the films themselves are hardly arthouse. Lovely as Flipped is, there’s nothing in the least bit challenging or difficult about it, and the only thing unexpected about it (and wonderfully so!) is that it gives as much play to the girl’s side of this budding adolescent romance as it does to the boy’s. The story appeals equally well to adults remembering what it was like to discover the whole falling-in-love thing and to kids experiencing it for the first time. (It’s set in a generic American suburban early-1960s setting, but director Reiner achieves a magnificent timeless feel to it.) It is an absolute crying shame that Flipped is getting lost in the multiplex din. What’s worse, the failure of a movie like Flipped would seem to all but ensure that din is all we’ll ever get at the multiplex from now on.
Neither Bryce Loski (a fantastic debut from Australian actor Callan McAuliffe) and Juli Baker (Madeline Carroll: The Spy Next Door, Astro Boy) is a vampire, an alien, or anything other than the most agreeably ordinary kid. They’re elementary schoolers when they meet (played at this point by Morgan Lily [2012, Henry Poole Is Here] and Ryan Ketzner), the day the Loski family moves into the neighborhood, and she decides instantly that she loves him: she “flipped” at the site of him. But the film’s title comes to have additional and more ironic meanings, too: Bryce can’t stand her until suddenly, one day in junior high, he finds her wildly intriguing. The film itself flips back and forth between presenting Bryce’s perspective on their relationship and Juli’s, a clever and witty presentation on how the same events can look very different through another’s eyes. Juli and Bryce learn about that kind of flipping, too, as they discover that growing up sometimes means changing your ideas about those around you, including about your parents, you often turn out to be not quite the people you thought they were.
It’s all totally enthralling a look at the most subtle, most prosaic of life experiences — such as the crushing realization that someone you love has disappointed you; or, conversely, that someone is the way he or she is because of crushing disappointment. Ordinary suburban events, from taking out the trash to a favorite tree getting chopped down, come to cut through our young heroes in unexpected ways. Reiner (The Bucket List, Alex and Emma) — who wrote the screenplay with Andrew Scheinman, from the novel by Wendelin Van Draanen [Amazon U.S.] [Amazon Canada] [Amazon U.K.] — has a keen eye for finding the wisdom or the hurt in the smallest of gestures or the simplest of words. The performances — including those by Rebecca DeMornay (Wedding Crashers, Raise Your Voice) and Anthony Edwards (Motherhood, Zodiac) as Bryce’s parent, and John Mahoney (Dan in Real Life, The Iron Giant) as his grandfather, and Penelope Ann Miller (National Lampoon’s Thanksgiving Family Reunion, Rudy: The Rudy Giuliani Story) and Aidan Quinn (Jonah Hex, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee) as Juli’s parents — are uniformly perceptive and shrewd. I can’t recommend Flipped highly enough.
And yet, I totally understand if you want to wait for DVD. It’s no fun going to The Movies these days. It’s a terrible position for a movie lover — and for The Movies — to be in.