Flipped (review)

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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.

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Wed, Sep 08, 2010 8:54am

I think you may have meant “isn’t” a vampire… Thank you for taking the time to review this, I’ll definitely check it out. You would think that many midwestern families would love a film like this, the content seems conservative but the structure is progressive. As you say, there seems to be an overabundance of the opposite – movies with extreme, outrageous, in-your-face, lip-service progressive content, draped lazily across painfully conservative and status-quo structures. Maybe it will do well on DVD.

Wed, Sep 08, 2010 8:56am

Doh, I just saw the Neither, disregard that “isn’t” suggestion…

Wed, Sep 08, 2010 10:18am

You would think that many midwestern families would love a film like this, the content seems conservative but the structure is progressive.

That seems to have been the idea behind the slow rollout, and the assumptions inherent in it drives me insane. What is “conservative” about young love? Absolutely nothing. I’m so sick of hearing crap (not from you, amanohyo, but in the culture at large, I mean) about “heartland values” and “family values.” As people who live in Harlem or Hollywood don’t have families they love or hopes and dreams and pleasant memories of childhood.

Wed, Sep 08, 2010 1:47pm

I meant conservative in the non-political sense of “traditional in style or manner; avoiding novelty or showiness.” However, I did mean progressive in a political sense, so it was a poor pairing of words on my part.

I also don’t like the attempts of many political conservatives to monopolize family values, which seems to suggest that other people don’t love or value their families. The odd thing is that if producers really buy the “family values” stereotype of the midwest, why would they release it in only LA, Sacramento, and Austin to gauge its potential?

My guess is that you’re right, and that audiences everywhere have been conditioned to go to the movies for big roller-coaster experiences, CGI kids’ shows, or “adult” rom-coms. Even if there was a big marketing push and they released the movie wide, I suspect it would do poorly. Doesn’t mean I wouldn’t still like to see them try though… it’s exactly the kind of movie that the parents here in the midwest always say they wish they saw more of. If it was given a chance and word of mouth caught on, and the movie system actually let movies hang around for more than a couple weeks to take adavantage of word of mouth, maybe it would do well.

Tonio Kruger
Tonio Kruger
Thu, Sep 09, 2010 1:15pm

I’m sure that title’s not helping either. For some reason, I keep thinking of real estate every time I see it.

Thu, Sep 09, 2010 8:21pm

Looks like it is going to 400+ screens this weekend. Not wide, but certainly a much bigger expansion than what it looked like it was going to get. I’ll probably check it out next week, it looks cute.