Rob Reiner's first big hit as a director was Stand By Me, more than 20 years ago. Though his earlier The Sure Thing was a solid and witty entry -- and This is Spinal Tap has become a classic over the years -- it was Reiner's adaptation of Stephen King's The Body that really confirmed his stature as a director.
So, after a cold streak that includes such duds as Alex and Emma and Rumor Has It, it's not surprising that Reiner would go back to the period of his youth as the setting for his new film, Flipped. A romantic coming-of-age comedy mostly set in the pre-Beatles' 1960s, Flipped is another exploration of what it means to be an adolescent -- except instead of boys dealing with the demands they face as men, this one is about boys and girls who suddenly see each other as young men and women.
Unfortunately, Flipped is flat and unfunny for a couple of reasons. One is the script, which Reiner and Andrew Scheinman adapted from the book by Wendelin Van Draanen. The other is Reiner's casting: specifically, young Callan McAuliffe, who plays the male lead against a much more appealing Madeline Carroll as his would-be love interest.
Really, it's not McAuliffe's fault so much as the writers'. Compared to Carroll's Juli Baker, McAuliffe's character, Bryce Loski, is a total lox -- a wimpy drip of a kid without the guts to swat a fly. The character is so mealy and formless that you keep hoping he'll get hit by a truck or otherwise disappear from the film, to be replaced by a character with whom you actually want to engage.
The story is told from two points of view: Bryce's and Juli's, who who lives across the street from the house into which Bryce's family moves circa 1957. She falls for him instantly -- but he, being a boy, has no interest in girls. And, as written, he's so socially challenged that he can't even be friendly to her, though they're neighbors for the next six years.
Most of the film takes place when they're in sixth and seventh grade. And as we see the story told and retold from their different points of view, it quickly becomes clear: Juli is too good for this kid. She's smart, funny, passionate and cute. Bryce is good-looking, but he's got the personality of an ottoman. So by the time he realizes just what he's got in Juli, she's figured out that he doesn't deserve her.
There's more -- too much more -- involving his churl of a dad (Anthony Edwards) and her father (Aidan Quinn), a sensitive bricklayer whose spare time is devoted to landscape painting and who's spent his life taking care of his brain-damaged brother. But none of it has the dramatic weight or comic impact that Reiner seems to think.
I shouldn't be so harsh on young McAuliffe, who does what he's supposed to. It's the character as written that's the problem. By contract, Carroll's Juli is iridescent, lighting up every scene she's in. So does John Mahoney as Bryce's grandfather, who befriends Juli when Bryce ignores her.
Flipped wants both laughs and a lump-in-the-throat ending. Unfortunately, it earns neither.