Rob Reiner adds depth and life to the teen romantic comedy.
En español | Thank God for Rob Reiner—with Flipped, he has reclaimed the teen romantic comedy from the gutter-dwelling likes of American Pie and Superbad. When was the last time a filmmaker recognized that the average teenager’s short-circuit of confused emotions and dizzying disorientation can emanate from somewhere above the waist? And even more poignantly: When was the last time a movie allowed those kids to turn to their parents, grandparents and grownup friends for the wisdom of experience, the comfort of love?
Reiner, the director who plumbed unexpected depths with his geriatric comedy The Bucket List a few years back, revisits the tangled landscape of adolescence that he explored in Stand By Me nearly 25 years ago. Eighth-grader Bryce (Callan McAuliffe) has been avoiding the affections of his across-the-street neighbor Juli (Madeline Carroll) since they were in second grade. But now he’s getting weird feelings of attraction for her, just as—you guessed it—she's beginning to question her lifelong infatuation with him. That’s pretty much the plot. As the two endure their excruciating gavotte, they take their cues from their parents, whose words of advice and personal example—good and bad—provide the essential raw information needed to see the dance through. Anthony Edwards is especially good as Bryce's dad, a man with private demons whose failings are as valuable to his son's new insights as his strengths are. As Juli’s dad, Aidan Quinn is touching: He's a working stiff who paints in his spare time and tries heroically to connect with his daughter. The film takes a brief side trip as father and daughter visit Dad's mentally challenged brother at a home—and what could have been a maudlin case of a filmmaker slathering on the sentiment becomes, instead, a remarkable movie-within-a-movie and a father’s impromptu lesson of what real love looks like.
Best of all is John Mahoney as Bryce's grandfather, a man mourning not only the death of his wife, but also that of a meaningful life. As he observes Bryce's agonies of the heart, his own heart melts a bit. There's a wonderful scene, the best in the film, in which grandfather and grandson take a nighttime stroll through their suburban neighborhood, each one picking through their scattered emotions. "Every once in a while," he tells the boy, "you find someone who’s iridescent." He looks up at the stars, and we realize he's talking to himself. "And when you do, nothing will ever compare."
Flipped is abounding in soft little moments like that, each one a quiet examination of a human heart, each one infused with humane authenticity.