Rob Reiner, a filmmaker with enough sparkle on his spotty résumé to keep us caring, returns to the 1950s-60s kid universe that he winningly depicted in “Stand by Me” in his new coming-of-age movie “Flipped.”
Unfortunately, he generates little of his former magic and comes up with nothing notably surprising or exceptional in this gimmicky dual-perspective tween romance.
The dramedy — which suggests Reiner’s “When Harry Met Sally” and, with its ethically mismatched protagonists, “The American President” — is based on the novel by Wendelin Van Draanen, which Reiner (co-writing with Andrew Scheinman) has reset in the days of Eisenhower, JFK and “Bonanza.”
The tone is preteen-mild, the undercurrents are baby boomer-friendly, and the device is the repeated flipping between his and her accounts of the central relationship.
In a postwar American suburb where streets have names like Bonnie Meadow Lane, individualist working-class Juli (Madeline Carroll) falls for conformist, upper-middle-class Bryce (Callan McAuliffe), a golden boy with “dazzling eyes.”
Influenced by his judgmental father, Bryce condemns Juli’s untidy house and fears Juli’s activist spirit. “Strategic avoidance” is his response to Juli.
As we follow the pair from second grade into junior high, Bryce’s moral wimpiness and seeming romantic indifference increasingly peeve Juli. Romantic-comedy style, she gives up on Bryce just as he grasps that he’s nuts about her.
Reiner touches on potentially compelling issues — the stirrings of first love, how parents’ attitudes affect children, how we judge others cosmetically.
And, he sprinkles in some cute bits involving silly school projects and, in a scene that’s hardly related to the story at all but constitutes a Rob Reiner moment, the awesome (from a kid’s-eye view) egg-eating abilities of a snake.
Sadly, however, what might have succeeded as an affecting tale of young romance with a slight “Way We Were” dynamic, or a vibrant dip into the preteen psyche, is, overall, a flat, superficial nostalgia dripper.
Reiner gets so caught up in gentler-times trimmings, doo-woppy soundtrack included, that characters’ urgencies feel almost secondary.
While the young stars provide credibility, their dialogue sounds screenwriterly. The contrived back-and-forth voice-over switching loses its charm quickly. At conclusion time, Reiner stumbles way over the wrong side of the sugar-saccharin line.
Among the adults, there are believable scenarios, including the struggle of Juli’s parents to finance the private care of Juli’s mentally disabled uncle, but they tend to be dramatized with stilted dinner-table arguments rather than three-dimensionally.
Anthony Edwards (playing Bryce’s narrow-minded father), Aidan Quinn (Juli’s artist father), Penelope Ann Miller (Juli’s mother) and Rebecca De Mornay (Bryce’s mother) are among the capable actors involved.
Starring Madeline Carroll,
Callan McAuliffe, Anthony Edwards, Aidan Quinn
Written by Rob Reiner,
Directed by Rob Reiner
Running time 1 hour 30 minutes