In modern projection, most movies unspool from the center of a giant, horizontal platter, thread through the top of a projector, and pay out of the bottom to wind around a different, empty platter. That platter fills up with the print, and the movie is ready to thread through again, back onto the platter where it once resided, starting everything over. As the film plays out from its center, the spool gets thinner and thinner. Flipped, the new coming-of-age dramedy from director Rob Reiner, unspools in the exact same mechanical manner as actual film, unwinding from reel one and growing thinner with every passing minute.
Has my heart grown so cold and battle-scarred that I can't allow myself to be completely won over by Flipped, or is Flipped such a load of flavorless mush that there's not enough charm for me to embrace? I like it in pieces, which is funny seeing as how the movie makes a big deal about how sometimes the parts aren't always greater than the whole. Boy, howdy, is that ever true here.
A sort of He Said, She Said for the tween set, Flipped bounces back and forth between endless, lifeless narration from its leads, Callan McAuliffe as Bryce Loski, a character defined by how nice his eyes are, and Madeline Carroll as Juli Baker, the "weird" girl across the street, who's not really that weird (in this movie's terms, weird equals raising chickens). Their story ping-pongs back and forth from their two points-of-view, from the moment they first met as children, up until their eight grade year, in rosy 1963.
The title comes from their flip-flopping, on-again, off-again obsession with each other, as they learn about themselves and each other through rambling vignettes on how to determine the sex of a chicken or the dreaded annual picnic auction. It's all very cute, and while cute can be diverting enough, I don't believe Flipped's intention is to exist simply as a puffy cloud diversion.
Take for instance the misguided scene in which Aidan Quinn, as Juli's father, pays a visit to his mentally challenged brother David (Kevin Weisman, so not up to this acting task), with Juli in tow. It's an awkward, three-minute burst of unintentionally comic histrionics (mostly from Weisman) that's meant to show the kinds of sacrifices that Juli's father makes for his family. Instead, the scene is so ill-conceived, so poorly acted, that it feels like an insult to the audience -- a totally ham-fisted bit of melodrama -- when placed within a film this genteel. It's meant to be complex and emotional, and it's totally phony.
Or take Anthony Edwards as Bryce's father, Steven, arguably the most complex character in the film. His role is a tricky one -- the kind of dad who is keenly aware that every member of his immediate family is smarter than he is and doesn't know how to deal with that, without feeling like less of a man. There's an exclamation mark of domestic violence smack dab in the middle of the movie that's never addressed again, brushed away in exchange for more teenage googley-eyed swooning. Why go there if the moment has no pay-off? How is the story rewarded and how is Bryce enhanced by painting Steven as an insufferable lout? It's just more overwrought family drama, inserted to give weight to a film in desperate need of some, just not in this way.
Do these dramatic left turns make the romance between Bryce and Juli any more entrancing? Not one bit. Movie romance very simply rises or falls on the chemistry of its leads, and while the two young actors are capable, they aren't really compatible. Flipped fails by trying to cram a couple of seasons worth of The Wonder Years' storylines into ninety-minutes and doing that with Rob Reiner's melodrama-heavy hand on the plow (and, sorry, but Bryce and Juli are no Kevin and Winnie). There's an echo of a story worth telling in here, and perhaps it's in the book on which the film is based, but, as a movie, Flipped vaporizes into nothing as the end credits begin to roll.