What am I doing watching a love story between children? OK, I know Shakespeare's Juliet was only 13 -- the same as the sweethearts of "Flipped" -- but this story takes place in the suburban 1960s, not among the upper classes of Renaissance Verona. It seems vaguely icky for a grown man to watch this film, alone.
But “Flipped” is a lovely, touching film, with Rob Reiner’s stamp of creative originality. (Albeit adapted from a book.) I don’t think I’ve seen anything else quite like it. It presents – from two points of view – an ever-changing relationship between a boy and girl over several years. It brings in themes of class, family loyalty and love in multiple generations. It shows family fights that feel real enough that you feel the children’s pain as the parents argue.
The title is never explained, but I think it refers to the flip-side views of the two characters, and the way their relationship flips over time, in terms of which one is pining for the other. It may also refer to how Juli flipped for Bryce when he moved to their neighborhood in second grade, or how I flipped for this film. It's a heart squeezer.
Sparks fly between Juli and Bryce all movie. There are sparks of conflict – his flint against her steel – and sparks of romance, which are really more like slow, spontaneous combustion. It’s fun to watch the kids bob and weave like opponents until the weaving brings their two fabrics together. It’s charming. In the end, there’s just enough pain left over to put some bitter on the sweet – and I prefer dark chocolate. Just when you think it's all going to be sealed with a kiss ... no.
“Flipped” isn’t perfect. (Much like the metaphor-heavy paragraph before this one.) I’m not a fan of how much voice-over narration it uses, as opposed to leaving the story to be told in the action. Voice-over feels like a short cut, telling us how to interpret the story, instead of letting viewers figure it out for themselves.
Moreover, like so many other films, you know from the beginning who’s going to end up in love. To be fair, it’s a rare romance movie that doesn’t telegraph that target – perhaps “Definitely, Maybe” could be considered one. I'd like to see that ambiguity tried more often.
Last, it looks a little cheap, down to fake leaves on a very important sycamore tree. I want to think Reiner didn’t get the budget he wanted, or deserved. The movie doesn’t seem to have got the audience I think it deserved, either.
Well, as with Bryce and Julie’s first kiss, delayed by years, better late than never.