Movie review: 'Flipped' wears its heart on its sleeve

By Michael O'Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 10, 2010

In "Flipped," eighth-grader Juli Baker likes eighth-grader Bryce Loski. Bryce, on the other hand, thinks Juli is annoying. Halfway through Rob Reiner's syrupy, ham-fisted paean to puppy love, you just might start to agree with Bryce.

Come to think of it, he's a little annoying, too.

Your reaction, to some degree, depends on your tolerance for cute child actors. In the lead roles, spunky Madeline Carroll ("The Spy Next Door") and dreamy Callan McAuliffe (an Australian making his American feature debut) have a well-scrubbed, middle-of-the-road appeal, but for anyone looking for depth, even their industrial-strength charm wears thin before long. At times, the movie feels like a commercial for Wonder Bread, stretched to feature length.

The film's title is a play on words. On one level, it refers to the crush Juli has on Bryce. Since the summer before second grade, when his family moved in across the street, she has been crazy about him. On another level, it refers to the film's central plot shift. At one point, after Bryce has ignored Juli's feelings once too often, making yet another insensitive comment, she comes to the realization that he's a big fat jerk. At which point he starts mooning over her. Their feelings for each other flip-flop, get it?

But the title has yet another meaning.

Based on the 2001 teen romance by author Wendelin Van Draanen, which alternated between chapters told in Bryce's voice and chapters told in Juli's voice, "Flipped" also switches between narration by each of its protagonists. Unfortunately, what seems like it might be a clever idea in a book doesn't entirely work on film. Rather than adding humor, paradox or irony to the telling, the dueling he-said, she-said voice-overs for the most part rehash what we've just seen, making the narrative seem twice as long as necessary. In other words, the voice-overs often merely explain what we're already watching on screen: "I walked home," Bryce tell us, in one of many statements of the obvious, "with the dirty dishes clanking in the picnic basket."

Set in 1963, each new "chapter" is introduced with a tone-setting snippet of music taken from a period pop song: "A Teenager in Love" here, "I Know (You Don't Love Me No More)" there. After a while, even that gimmick starts to feel intrusive and heavy-handed.

And speaking of heavy-handed, there are a couple of downer subplots that, at times, threaten to swamp the little film in a tsunami of bathos. One scene, in which Juli and her father (Aidan Quinn) visit her developmentally disabled Uncle Daniel, is particularly hard to watch. As Daniel -- played by Kevin Weisman, channeling Nathan Lane -- freaks out over spilled ice cream, the film veers wildly, if only momentarily, off course.

Anthony Edwards also makes an especially unpleasant appearance as Bryce's dour, judgmental father. Whether he's fulminating at the dinner table about the state of the Bakers' lawn or giving Bryce's older sister (Cody Horn) the back of his hand for talking back, he comes across like someone who wandered onto the wrong soundstage by mistake. Perhaps from the Neil LaBute film next door.

He brings a jarring touch to a movie with the look -- and all the subtlety -- of a Norman Rockwell painting sprung to life.

Rating: one and half stars

PG. At area theaters. Contains two mild obscenies, a brief slapping scene and shots of a snake eating a raw egg, which is kind of gross. 90 minutes.

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