It’s hard to believe that the man who directed Stand by Me would even look at this material. It’s preachy and almost pointless in ways that even Reiner’s most annoying films, like When Harry Met Sally, avoid with dollops of levitating humor. Flipped is almost shockingly sober. It’s a beautiful-looking film, but clearly Reiner worked hard to make it look like schlock nostalgia: the 1950s filtered through television, all golden hues with big Chevys floating through BBQ suburbia. Our protagonist, Bryce (Callan McAuliffe), for instance, looks strikingly like Ozzie and Harriett’s young David Nelson, handsome and wrapped in a muffling fog of good-natured emotional repression. To be fair, Flipped offers moments beyond the clichéd images, and some of the cast members manage to breathe life into the stifling “look.” Rebecca De Mornay and Anthony Edwards understand there were “individuals,” even in an age of overwhelming conformity. Edwards even takes a surprisingly sadistic turn as a household tyrant. When his forehead veins pulse, you momentarily forget how pointless the rest of the movie is.
And the story? Nine-year-old Juli (Madeline Carroll) meets Bryce, the boy across the block, in 1957 and is dazzled beyond socially acceptable schoolyard rules, though most of the semi-epiphanic action takes place in 1963. The whole film is narrated (usually a very bad sign) first by Bryce, and then the same scenes get repeated (and re-explained) from Juli’s perspective. Nothing is gained by this preteen Rashomon approach—the experiment only underscores how meandering this story seems as time plods on. Touching moments almost always come from the nostalgic score.
What’s puzzling about this film is its lavish period placement. The year 1963 included the trauma of JFK’s assassination and Beatle-mania’s pep pill thrills, but the movie never mentions either. If it’s trying to insist on some kind of cultural innocence, then Flipped is all the more offensively clichéd. The 1950s were about as innocent as Karl Rove. This movie won’t teach kids much about that Cold War, beatnik-poet, embattled civil rights years. At the same time it ought to offend even the coddled generation that lived them.