x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Flipped

It might lack the emotional depth of Stand By Me, but Flipped shows that when it comes to teenage angst, there's no better director than Rob Reiner.

Callan McAuliffe, left, plays Bryce in Flipped, a coming-of-age romantic comedy set in 1950s and 1960s America.
Callan McAuliffe, left, plays Bryce in Flipped, a coming-of-age romantic comedy set in 1950s and 1960s America.

Flipped

Director: Rob Reiner

Starring: Madeline Carroll Callan McAuliffe and Anthony Edwards

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Blame it on the lure of technology, shortened attention spans or simply growing cynicism, but it is increasingly rare to find a film about teenagers that is not suffocated with special effects, concerned with an end-of-the-world scenario, or stuffed with vampires or magic.

Plots involving normal teenagers simply acting their age are hard to come by and, as the accomplished American filmmaker Rob Reiner found out with his latest offering, even harder to market.

Released mid-year with virtually no PR campaign, Flipped understandably achieved tepid box office results and was swiftly dispatched to DVD.

But that should not reflect badly on what is a well-crafted film.

Set firmly in America's baby boomer generation (the late 1950s to the early 1960s) Flipped is a tale of first love, albeit the innocent kind.

Indeed, the title relates to the unpredictable way one person can find themselves inexplicably falling in love with another and vice versa.

The film starts off with Bryce Loski (Callan McAuliffe) moving into his new suburban neighbourhood where he is immediately accosted by fellow second-grader Juli Baker (Madeline Carroll), who lives across the road.

Juli falls straight away for his "dazzling eyes", but the pensive Bryce is having none of it.

Thus begins Juli's irrepressible quest to capture his attention by stalking him in the schoolyard, personally delivering him eggs from her back garden or getting close enough to take a whiff of Bryce's watermelon-scented hair.

Bryce, on the other hand, begins a series of "avoidance measures" which involve being standoffish, abrupt and deceptive.

But after years with no success, Juli matures and eventually outgrows her crush on Bryce.

Meanwhile, Bryce begins to finally appreciate Juli's generous spirit and develops romantic feelings towards her.

Reiner's career of late has been a mixed bag, and despite his previous feature The Bucket List being reasonably well received, his best work remains two decades ago in the period when Stand By Me (1986), When Harry Met Sally (1989) and Misery (1990) rode high at the box office.

With Flipped, which Reiner also produced and co-wrote, he goes back to the teen genre with which he has such affinity.

As he did in his earlier teenage classics, Stand By Me and The Sure Thing, Reiner uses Flipped to cast a deeply empathetic eye on young people coming to grips with adulthood.

Both Bryce and Juli find their joyful innocence delicately unravels as they come to terms with the messy business of love and the realisation of where they stand on the social ladder.

The baseball-loving Bryce lives the quintessential American dream. His house has a clean garden and picket fence, his dad works full time and his mum is an affectionate housewife.

Juli's family, on the hand, dwell a few rungs below, with a shabby rented house and an artistic father struggling to make ends meet. Both teenagers view their relationship as an attempt to fill a void in their lives. For Bryce, the irrepressible Juli offers him the adventure that his conservative upbringing denies him. Juli, with her more turbulent life, finds in the shy Bryce the sense of calm that often eluded her.

Reiner elicits delicate performances from both leads and ensures the admittedly sugary plot does not cross over into saccharine.

However, by having the story narrated solely by both teenagers, Reiner does not glean all the riches the story could have offered. He could, for instance, have delved more into the story of Bryce's straitlaced father, solidly played by Anthony Edwards, whose often laconic remarks disguise an ugly short fuse. The same could be said of Juli's parents, whose financial struggles could have been explored further for extra emotional punch.

In choosing not to explore these aspects of the story, Reiner produces a film that is enjoyable but lacks the resonance of his previous teenage works.

Still, when it comes to portraying adolescents skilfully, you would be hard pressed to find a better director then Reiner. Flipped continues his sentimental career-long paean to growing up, with all of its insecurity and upheavals. And without a vampire in sight.