The year is 1957. Seven-year-old Bryce Loski (Callan McAuliffe) is helping his father unpack boxes from the moving van parked in front of the family’s new home, located in a classic American suburb. Almost immediately upon arriving in his new neighborhood, Bryce is greeted by fellow second-grader, Juli Baker (Madeline Carroll), who lives across the street. Juli is immediately enamored, drawn in by Bryce’s perfect smile and bright eyes. Young, still girl-phobic Bryce harbors opposite feelings; put off by her strong and persistent personality, he wants nothing to do with her.
Over the next six years, little changes in regards to their feelings towards one another; Juli still thinks she’s immovably in love, while Bryce remains completely uninterested.
It isn’t until their final year in junior high that things begin to change. Through a series of semi-connected events, Bryce and Juli begin interacting more directly with one another. Upon gaining deeper insight into who the other is, both their feelings flip. Bryce now finds Juli increasingly interesting, perhaps even admirable. She finds him less so.
As the two adolescents continue to learn more about each other’s personalities, values and circumstances, their once clouded perceptions again shift – and they meet somewhere in the middle.
Veteran director and screenwriter Rob Reiner (Stand By Me, When Harry Met Sally) tells his story using dueling voice-over narrations, alternating between the two protagonists’ perspectives. Many scenes play out onscreen twice, once through Bryce’s lens and again through Juli’s. Initially, this tactic feels lazy and grating – the movie is literally about 75% narration and 25% dialogue – but eventually one acclimates and the potential insight provided through the double narrative begins to reveal itself.
Much of the first act is sappy, happy-go-lucky nostalgia. The early-sixties setting harkens back to simpler times when families weren’t inundated with the modern evils of today. Everything is too bright, too sunny and completely unreal. It’s nice to look at, but it’s shallow and offers very little to chew on.
As the film progresses, though, Reiner ventures into darker territory. He slowly breaks down the “good ol’ days” façade, revealing the true complexities of growing up and finding one’s place in family and society. The character’s begin facing real problems and grow more aware of the imperfections in their home lives. Bryce and Juli transform from picturesque ideals into real people; audiences can now find that crucial emotional connection to them, which is needed for the film to succeed.
Though it takes him some time, Reiner eventually finds a balance between the cute sentimentality viewers think they want, and the poignancy they actually need. Ultimately, Flipped is still a schmaltzy, feel-good story, but that’s not all it is. There’s a little bit of substance there too. Plus, a little schmaltz never hurt anybody.