Judge Patrick Bromley flips this movie the bird.
You never forget your first love.
Where have you gone, Rob Reiner?
Facts of the Case
Neighbors since the second grade, Bryce (Callan McAuliffe, I Am Number Four) and Juli (Madeline Carroll, Swing Vote) have a love-hate relationship: Juli loves Bryce, but Bryce hates Juli. As they grow up in the 1960s, though, things don't always stay that way.
Seriously, what happened to Rob Reiner? Once an untouchable director of great populist entertainment and with multiple genuine classics under his belt, the Reiner of the last 10 or 15 years is a sad imitation of his former self. Consider the streak this guy was on when he first started making movies: This is Spinal Tap, The Sure Thing, Stand By Me, The Princess Bride, When Harry Met Sally, Misery. All great movies that last. Then A Few Good Men, which isn't a great movie but a good one with enough that works about it to make it worth seeing. Reiner's first real misstep didn't come until 1994 with North, but luckily he bounced right back with the wonderful The American President (a movie that, for some reason, doesn't get nearly the amount of love and attention it deserves). It was the last great movie he would make.
I don't know what it was. Did North really shake him up that badly? Or did he, like so many once-great directors, simply grow out of touch with what made his movies smart and special and unique? He finished out the '90s in a downward spiral: Ghosts of Mississippi and The Story of Us. By the 2000s, Reiner's movies were no longer recognizable as his own—they could have just as easily been directed by any commercial hack: Alex & Emma. Rumor Has It. The Bucket List. This is really the same guy who gave us Spinal Tap and The Princess Bride? It's hard to believe it's even the same guy that made North. At least that movie had some conviction to its badness.
Now comes 2010's Flipped, Reiner's latest and most obvious attempt to return to his former glory. There are many elements of the movie that play to his strengths: it's a romantic comedy set in the early '60s and centered around two kids. It's also a more modest movie than Reiner has made in a long time, with a few recognizable actors appearing (including Anthony Edwards, Aidan Quinn, Rebecca DeMornay and Penelope Ann Miller in the adult roles) but no real movie stars. This was the first Reiner movie of the 2000s to show any promise—promise which it fails to deliver upon in every way. It's a simplistic, saccharine and altogether shallow movie about mostly unlikable characters hurting one another over and over again.
On paper, I'm the audience for Flipped. I was once a big, big Rob Reiner fan, and with every movie I'm rooting for his comeback. I'm also a huge sucker for '50s and '60s period stuff; sure, Stand By Me is awesome, but in a pinch I'll make do with a Now and Then. I'm not picky. The problem with Flipped (I say as though there is only one) is that its period has nothing to do with the story. That shouldn't come a surprise; the script, co-written by Reiner, is based on a 2001 book by Wendelin Van Draanen that was set in the early 2000s. That means the decision to place the story in the '60s was strictly Reiner's and, I suspect, purely a commercial one, meant to conjure up positive memories of Stand By Me upon which the new film could be marketed. With the exception of the clothing and the hazy, soft-focus photography, there is nothing about Flipped that even suggests the period (even the language feels strangely contemporary), and at no point does the movie comment on the early '60s or vice versa. It's an incredibly cynical calculation disguised as a tribute to innocence. Shame on you, Rob Reiner.
But, of course, this isn't what ultimately kills Flipped. What does the movie in is its ill-conceived structure, which (like everything in the movie) is meant to be "precious" but which only comes off as hollow and maddening (also like everything in the movie). Scene after scene, we are treated to a repetitive "he said/she said" structure in which we see events first from Bryce's side, then Juli's. In the early going, it feels like a gimmick—a hook to draw us into the story and the lives of these two characters. I'm ok with that. And, in a book (like the one upon which the film is based), I can see this working. In the movie, though, as the structure continues and long overstays its welcome, it's death. The issue is more than the fact that it reduces the film to essentially 90 minutes of voice over (I'm not exaggerating); it's that it requires us to sit through every sequence twice without learning anything either time. Neither character is able to provide any insight into their own actions or the actions of the other characters. Bryce does something thoughtless and hurtful to Juli; then, from Juli's perspective, we learn that Bryce did something thoughtless and hurtful. Oh, but she still loves him anyway, for reasons that are never made remotely clear other than that it is what is required by the screenplay. It isn't about confusing or misinterpreting her own feelings. Juli doesn't dislike Bryce because she's unwilling to face the idea that she loves him. She's correct to dislike him and has every reason to feel that way. He's the worst. He's cruel and spineless and ineffectual, and the performance Callan McAuliffe disappears from the screen practically as it occurs.
I haven't even touched upon the terrible performances given by almost every adult actor in the film, either. John Mahoney (She's the One) gets out with his dignity as Bryce's grandfather, and Aidan Quinn, playing Juli's dad, nearly does, but for the most part the performances fall somewhere between a Project Greenlight film and community theater. Every grown character in the movie is fairly unpleasant, too, prone to shouting and whining and constant bickering. Worst of all is Kevin Weisman's small supporting role as Quinn's brother, an adult with special needs. His scenes and performance are so cartoonishly terrible and so tone deaf that I have to believe that only knowledge either Weisman or Reiner have about special needs adults comes from a single shared viewing of The Other Sister. It's not even up to that movie's low standards of taste.
Flipped arrives on Blu-ray in a package that does the movie justice but not much more. The 1.85:1, 1080p image is warm and solid, perhaps only done in by the film's soft-focus, nostalgia-drenched photography. Detail isn't as sharp as on other HD releases, because Reiner has insisted that everything in the film be reduced to a smear; that's not the fault of the transfer, which reproduces the director's intentions admirably. The DTS-HD master audio track does a good job servicing the movie, offering clear dialogue and surround effects tastefully and subtly (it might be the only thing subtle or tasteful about the movie, actually). The extras included on the disc are as bland and forgettable as Flipped itself, amounting to little more than a handful of EPK-style featurettes: a making-of piece called "The Differences Between Boys and Girls;" "Anatomy of a Near-Kiss," which interviews the two young stars as they lead up to a big scene; "How to Make a Volcano," a how-to science fair piece and an even fluffier piece (if that's possible) called "Embarrassing Egg-scuses," about the role chickens play in the movie. The answer? Not much of one.
A standard definition DVD copy of Flipped is also included, as is a digital copy for playback on your PC or portably media device.
It's a rare thing, the director who is able to sustain a creatively and commercially successful career over several decades. Rob Reiner is not that director. Flipped may be the final nail in the filmmaker's coffin. I don't think he's coming back from this one. At least we'll always have the '80s.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
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