You’re going to see the words “wholesome” and “heart-warming” attached to Rob Reiner’s Flipped, and that should be enough to tell you whether or not this movie is for you. Something called the Heartland Film Festival has anointed Flipped with the presumably coveted title of “Truly Moving Picture.” I was certainly moved, as I shifted in my seat in an attempt to fight off the movie’s butt-numbing effects.
Don’t be mistaken, however. I don’t dislike this film because of its whitewashed, feel-good view of the world. This alone isn’t enough to make a movie bad—though the film’s tooth-achingly saccharine nature makes it horribly dull. What makes Flipped awful is the blatant laziness on display.
Based on the preteen novel by Wendelin Van Draanen, Reiner and co-writer Andrew Scheinman (who penned the Reiner flop North (1994)) have written an adaptation with zero tact or imagination. Instead of adapting, they’ve transcribed, since we get not one, but two narrators describing events throughout the film. And when I say there’s narration, I don’t mean here and there to fill in the story. No, what we get is incessant chatting throughout the entire movie, to the point that there’s more narration than dialogue. It’s one part apathetic screenwriting, one part distrust of the audience, with a bit of The Wonder Years thrown in.
The film is a nostalgic view of the early ‘60s, revolving around junior-high boy Bryce (Callan McAuliffe) and his varied romantic entanglements with the girl across the street, Juli (Madeline Carroll, The Spy Next Door). It’s basic coming-of-age stuff that’s unfortunately none too interesting (there’s a 15-minute section about nothing but eggs)—told from the back-and-forth perspectives of both kids and slathered in treacly mass-market prose.
For the most part, the movie is trite in its depiction of the good ol’ days, with a nostalgic look that feels phony and contrived and occasionally tailspins into melodrama. The subplot of Bryce’s father (Anthony Edwards)—a bitter, closed-minded man who spirals downward into rage and anger—goes nowhere. After a narrated side note, he’s completely dismissed from the film. This is just bad storytelling, but it’s not as bad as the clichéd and offensive “full retard” minstrel-show performance by Kevin Weisman (Clerks II), who way overplays his mentally challenged character.
The ‘80s heyday of Reiner is long gone, but even this movie is a step down from the overbearing schmaltz of his last film, The Bucket List (2007). The movie has been floundering in limited release for more than a month and only now has been granted a semi-wide release; this would be career-killing stuff for someone with less of a name than the once and former Meathead. On paper, Flipped is harmless family entertainment. In practice, however, it’s so simplistic and unimaginative that it’s almost offensive. Rated PG for language and some thematic material.