Monday, 5 December 2016

Movie Review: Flipped (2010)


A coming-of-age tentative romance, Flipped is a tender story of first crush told with warmth and heart but without straying too far from the familiar path.

It's the early 1960s, and grade eight student Bryce Loski (Callan McAuliffe) cannot shake the attentions of his classmate and across-the-street neighbour Juli Baker (Madeline Carroll). The young but precocious Juli had first set eyes on Bryce six years earlier when the Loskis moved into the community, and she made it her mission in life to win his affection. Always less mature and uncertain how to behave, Bryce had rebuffed her at every opportunity. Now at 14 years old, Juli is beginning to blossom into a young adult, and gains local prominence by trying to protect a beautiful neighbourhood tree from the chainsaw.

The Bakers are a relatively poor family, with Juli's free spirited artist father Richard (Aidan Quinn) dedicated to funding the expensive private health care of his retarded brother. Bryce's grandfather Chet (John Mahoney) moves in with the Loskis and acts as a catalyst and counterweight to Bryce's boorish father Steven (Anthony Edwards). After Bryce manages to unwittingly insult Juli in an incident involving eggs and backyard chickens, Chet sets about building bridges with Juli, her unique spirit reminding him of his recently deceased wife. With both Juli and Bryce learning hard truths about their families, their potential friendship hangs in the balance.

Flipped is pleasantly sweet, sometimes poignant and with its heart firmly throbbing towards nostalgia. But there is also no denying that the film is not much more than three back-to-back episodes of The Wonder Years television show. Flipped introduces he said, she said narration of the same incidents to contrast Bryce and Juli's perspectives, but otherwise the film ploughs very familiar territory: coming of age in the 1960s, the exaggerated traumas of life in junior high school, and early experiences in understanding the greater world.

Director and co-writer Rob Reiner is a safe pair of hands. The decision to relocate Wendelin Van Draanen's young adult novel from the early 1990s to the early 1960s opens up the film's appeal to a wider audience, the wistful pull of the early 1960s still holding strong resonance. The actual events that drive Juli and Bryce towards various points of conflict are the types of episodes that build early personal adulthood memories. The beautiful neighbourhood tree is threatened; Juli cares deeply, Bryce not so much. Juli wins a science fair competition, much to Bryce's chagrin. She reaches out to the entire neighbourhood with fresh egg donations; Bryce's family haughtily reject the gesture, disgusted by the Bakers' backyard.

It is left to wise old head Chet to cut past the social barriers and spot in Juli the emergence of a remarkable young woman. Bryce's mom Patsy (Rebecca De Mornay) follows up with an invitation to dinner that is another turning point in the growing up process, exposing Bryce for the fist time to his father's true colours. And gradually Reiner builds his way to a respectful resolution, as Bryce clumsily but doggedly seeks the inflection point between child and adult.

Although some snippets of the crystallizing adult world, including Juli's retarded uncle, are dealt with in just the right amount, Reiner leaves many other sub-plots in frustratingly poor condition. Bryce's father Steven casts a long shadow over the family, but the film only pokes at his repressed frustrations and then leaves him suffering. Grandpa Chet is a key catalyst, but drops out unceremoniously. And both Bryce and Juli have interesting siblings who deserved bigger roles.

Madeline Carroll is excellent as Juli, demonstrating a good emotional range and nailing the traumas of adolescence. Callan McAuliffe as Bryce has less to do and comes across as more wooden. Aidan Quinn, Rebecca De Mornay, John Mahoney, Penelope Ann Miller and Anthony Edwards provide the supporting case with a welcome gloss.

Flipped is gentle and pleasingly engaging, but leaves no lasting impact.






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