It's no secret that Rob Reiner isn't exactly doing his best work these days, having gone from an astonishing 1980s and 1990s hot streak (from This is Spinal Tap to A Few Good Men) to the likes of The Story of Us, Alex & Emma, Rumor Has It..., and The Bucket List. So one can't blame him for hoping to recreate a past success, though the lengths to which he attempts to remake his smash Stand By Me in his latest picture, Flipped, are a little embarrassing. Reiner (who co-wrote the screenplay, adapted from Wendelin Van Draanen's young adult novel) slaps on the soft filters and cranks up the wall-to-wall oldies soundtrack, doing his best to make not like it's the early 1960s of the story, but the 1986 of his beloved earlier effort. To his credit, it almost works, though the thinness of both the story and his execution ultimately sinks his efforts.
We begin in summer of 1957. Narrator Bryce Loski (Callan McAuliffe) explains how he and his family move into a new neighborhood; neighbor girl Juli Baker takes to him immediately, scaring him off with her forceful personality. We follow them up to sixth grade, when Bryce's plan to shake off Juli's crush backfires--and then, we go back to the beginning, where the story is told again by Juli (Madeline Carroll), in what we realize is a switching narration/point-of-view He Said, She Said storytelling device. And then back to Bryce for the next section, and then back to Juli, back and forth, up to 1963. Hmmm, we think. This could get monotonous and repetitive.
And it does. The film is grotesquely over-voiced; Reiner is so reliant on the narration that it plays, at times, less like a film than an audiobook. "He kept calling on the phone," Juli's narration goes, accompanied by (get this) a shot of a phone ringing. "And coming to the door!" she continues, to a shot of him knocking at the front door. And so on. That's not the script's only problem. There's a sense that the story isn't properly prepared--that we don't know who people are in relation to each other, and that Juli's mentally challenged uncle (Kevin Weisman, in a performance that makes Sean Penn's work in I Am Sam seem comparatively subtle) should have been mentioned far earlier than he is.
Big arguments are often stilted and soapy, and there is also the problem of imbalance. Juli is made such a saint, so sweet and principled and delightful, that Bryce seems like an utter douche comparatively; we're not really rooting for them to end up together, because she's deserves so much better. (In her voice-overs, she can't seem to come up with much explanation for why she likes him, beyond the fact that he has dazzling eyes.) The more time we spend with his father (rather overplayed by Anthony Edwards) the more we understand that his insensitivity is probably a genetic trait, but that's still not enough to get us on his side.
And yet, somehow, I'm not down on Flipped, because in spite of all of its problems, it's a charming and likable picture. Most of the credit for that goes to Carroll, who carries the film with ease, capable of breaking your heart (see her pleas to Bryce from the top of her beloved sycamore tree) and cheering your soul. She may very well understand the role better than the movie does. McAuliffe is also pretty good, in spite of the spottiness of his character; John Mahoney, as Bryce's grandfather, brings his usual roguish charm. The other adult actors are pretty forgettable, but that's acceptable; the movie's not really about them anyway.
THE BLU-RAY DISC:
The MPEG-4 AVC-transferred image is bathed in a golden, nostalgic glow that is, at times, distractingly overcooked; skin tones are oversaturated, and the bright lighting is apparently intended to render the young players angelic. The painterly look is pretty, but when Juli climbs her tree to look over their town, the image looks damn near animated. Detail work also tends to be washed out by the nostalgic haze. None of this should be blamed on the transfer, of course, which presumably matches Reiner's Saturday Evening Post-inspired vision for the film.
The DTS-HD English 5.1 Master Audio track is serviceable if unimpressive, keeping dialogue clean and clear in the center channel with the oldies soundtrack supplementing in the front surrounds. Rear channels are only occasionally engaged for environmental effects (like chirping birds). It's a good enough mix, but doesn't benefit much from the lossless presentation.
A Spanish 5.1 mix is also included, along with English SDH and Spanish subtitles.
Bonus features are awfully sparse, and done no favors by the youth of the leading actors, whose interviews are (sorry) not terribly insightful. "The Differences Between a Boy and a Girl" (6:32) is a slender (and altogether too cutesy) look at the making of the film, while "Anatomy of a Near-Kiss" (3:18) examines the embarrassment of shooting an almost-kiss scene. The other two featurettes are based on the film's science fair story: "Embarrassing Egg-scuses" (5:01) looks at the mechanics of the chicken-and-eggs subplot (no, really), while the dopey "How to Make the Best Volcano" (4:54) features McAuliffe showing how to create the science fair classic.
The PG rating is only carried by about ten percent of films these days, with most kid and teen-geared pictures tweaked up with extra violence or language to appeal to teens and adults. Flipped is, in many ways, a quintessential PG movie, like the kind of live-action stuff Disney used to put out in the 1970s and 1980s: it's patchy and uneven, full of problems on the script and story levels. But it's also very sweet and absolutely harmless, and it has enough of a heart to render its infractions forgivable.
Jason lives with his wife Rebekah and their daughter Lucy in New York. He holds an MA in Cultural Reporting and Criticism from NYU. He is film editor for Flavorwire and is a contributor to Salon, the Atlantic, and several other publications. His first book, Pulp Fiction: The Complete History of Quentin Tarantino's Masterpiece, was released last fall by Voyageur Press. He blogs at Fourth Row Center and is yet another critic with a Twitter feed.