Rob Reiner has made some absolutely outstanding films. From the genre-inspiring This Is Spinal Tap to the oft-quoted A Few Good Men, the actor/writer/producer/director has been a busy and extremely successful filmmaker who, unfortunately, has been on a decade-long cold streak. I mean, I’m sure Alex & Emma and The Bucket List have their admirers, but they’re probably the same people who voted The Blind Side into the Best Picture race last year.
Two of his pre-slump classics include the 1986 child-starring drama Stand By Me and the best romantic comedy ever made, When Harry Met Sally…. With his 2010 child-starring comedy Flipped, Reiner seems to be trying to combine his past successes to create a current one. The only problem is if you take Reiner’s connection out of the mix no one would ever dream of merging the aforementioned ‘80s films.
Flipped makes a deceptively complex story out of the basic premise of two kids destined to share a first kiss (spoiler alert – despite consistent allusions to the act, they never kiss). Juli (Madeline Carroll) is the girl next door, and Bryce (Australian actor Callan McAuliffe sporting a very fine American accent) hates her. At least he thinks he does. His early distaste for her is clearly pre-pubescent masked adoration, hence explaining one meaning behind the film’s title when his slight maturation occurs.
Juli, however, was enamored by his glowing eyes from the moment they met. In the classic format of romantic comedies, as he develops feelings for her, she loses love for him. The two are thus kept apart for the majority of the movie, and most of the drama is generated from the timeless question: will they or won’t they get together? Yawn.
The concept of a romantic comedy centering around two 12-year-olds is iffy to begin with. Is it cute? Yes. Is it believable? Maybe. Is it practical? Hell no! Some comedies can be completely disposable, but not romantic ones. The audience needs to believe that the connection between the couple is meaningful and lasting. Watching Bryce and Juli’s crush slowly develop allows too much time to picture an adult Bryce recounting the story with his wife. “Oh, Juli? Yeah, I remember her. We ‘dated’ for about a month in junior high. I farted and she got grossed out and dumped me.”
Reiner certainly tries to make us believe these two will stand the test of time by surrounding their courtship with dramatic circumstances. Flipped is chock full of important issues like a mentally handicapped uncle, class differences, and overcoming prejudice parents but all of these topics are clearly only included to give the film more gravitas than it deserves. The story is always about whether or not these two little kids like each other. What keeps them apart doesn’t need to be as intensely serious as the matters mentioned above. They should be funny, endearing, and entertaining. Not every romance has to be Romeo and Juliet, a fact Reiner must have forgotten since making the wonderfully personal When Harry Met Sally.
There’s also very little for kids to attach to in the movie. Stories about children cannot simply appeal to them because little tykes are the focus. They don’t look for ideas or concepts to attach to like adults do, or at least not in the same way. They need humor, action, or any form of excitement to get through the two hours without squirming, talking, or otherwise bugging their parents. Flipped barely has enough filler to make it past 90-minutes and even less time is spent focusing on entertaining kids. The long, melodramatic scenes Reiner lays out (and then repeats from the other character’s perspective) bored a 24-year-old, so I doubt they’ll capture the imagination of people half their age.
It’s hard to imagine whom the director is trying to please. If it’s too slow for kids and too trivial for adults, there’s not many demographics left. Though not a fault in and of itself, Reiner has always made movies that are thoroughly entertaining. As an actor and activist, you must imagine he derives a great deal of pleasure in pleasing others. Here, unfortunately, he seems to be helping no one. Hopefully, he at least likes his own work.
If so, he didn’t put much effort into providing bonus content on the DVD. The lone special feature is a three-and-a-half minute video recounting a late scene in the movie when Juli and Bryce almost kiss. Both child actors are endlessly giggly when asked to lean into one another, and Reiner appears slightly annoyed at their jovial demeanor. Though it’s refreshing to see the kids having a good time on set, it also shows how harshly out of touch the movie is from its subjects. Children get crushes, sure, but they rarely put so much time and consideration into their relationships. Maybe if they would have been allowed to have a little more fun in front of the camera instead of behind it, the audience could have had some consideration, too.