Every once in a while a film comes along seemingly out of nowhere that strikes an unexpected emotional chord; a film containing moments so small yet so real, the recognition they inspire cuts to our very core. 'Flipped' is one such film. And if you haven't heard of it, you're not alone. Director Rob Reiner's sensitive, nostalgic, and wholly engaging adaptation of the young adult novel about the pangs, pining, and problems inherent in adolescent love may, on its surface, resemble a hundred other generic films. But 'Flipped' quickly distances itself from the pack, arousing a heady sense of wonder and a unique kinship with the characters that make it flat-out one of the best movies I've seen this year. Sweet without being saccharine, moving without being manipulative, wise without being didactic, this slice-of-life tale filled with rich characters and honest emotion flew way under the radar when it was released earlier this year. (It grossed a paltry $1.75 million at the box office.) Until it arrived on my doorstep last week, I had never heard of it either, and yet now all I want to do is sing its praises and make sure everyone knows about this delightful, uplifting family film.
The story is simple yet so identifiable, there's nary a person on the planet who can't relate to it. And therein lies both its genius and beauty. While most tales resonate only to small segments of an audience, who among us hasn't tried to navigate the treacherous minefield that is our first serious crush, or grappled with such universal issues as self-discovery, romantic awakening, self-esteem, peer pressure, and personal integrity…all as we battle through that most difficult school year of all – eighth grade? Because the setting hits home for each and every one of us, the screenplay, adapted from Wendelin Van Draanen's novel, doesn't need big, melodramatic events to spark interest or evoke an emotional response. The idea of less is more is what drives this film – in its writing, direction, and acting – and the benefits we reap because of that subtlety and tenderness are considerable.
From the moment Juli Baker (Madeline Carroll) lays eyes on new neighbor Bryce Loski (Callan McAuliffe) when both are seven-year-olds in 1957, she's instantly smitten and won't leave the poor boy alone. She "flips" for him, but Bryce, like most immature boys, is put off by all the attention, and as the years go by he tries his best to keep Juli at bay without being outwardly mean or rude. During eighth grade, however, in 1963, circumstances bring them closer, and as they learn more about each other, Bryce begins to come around and see Juli in a different, more flattering light. He "flips" for her…ironically, just as she comes to recognize Bryce's shortcomings and her infatuation starts to wear off.
If you look at the picture on the Blu-ray packaging, you might logically guess the movie resembles a preachy 'Afterschool Special' or all-too-cutesy Nickelodeon feature, but there's far more to 'Flipped' than its routine boy-meets-girl premise. Issues of class, tolerance, regret, disillusionment, and acceptance swirl about the story and are woven into Juli's and Bryce's respective families. And the method in which the tale is told also allows us to become more intimate with the characters than we otherwise might. First, we see an episode from Bryce's perspective with his voiceover narration, then the focus "flips," and we look at the same episode from Juli's angle with her commentary. In lesser hands, the he-said-she-said style could feel gimmicky, but Reiner is such a talented and intuitive director, he fashions just the right tone, and the dual points of view add marvelous texture and depth to the film.
As he proved in 'Stand By Me' 25 years ago, Reiner is a master at working with juvenile actors, wringing from them an enviable natural quality that blurs the lines between fiction and reality. He's also adept at recreating a bygone period so we really feel immersed in it. And there's a sense of ease, simplicity, and quiet elegance that pervades all his work – and this film in particular – that make time evaporate. 'Flipped' runs a mere 90 minutes, and it's a testament to Reiner and his actors that it feels much shorter. If I have one criticism of the movie, it's that it ends too abruptly – or more accurately, before I wanted it to. I easily could have spent another half hour or so in the company of these characters and in the hands of this director, and that longing for more is a real rarity in this day and age.
Though you may be unfamiliar with the lead actors, Reiner has assembled a sterling supporting cast that includes Anthony Edwards and Rebecca De Mornay as Bryce's parents; John Mahoney as his grandfather; Aidan Quinn and Penelope Ann Miller as Juli's parents; and Kevin Weisman as her mentally retarded uncle. They create a tight ensemble, each a minor yet essential cog in the narrative wheel, and add essential substance to the film's central themes. Still, it's McAuliffe and Carroll who do the heavy lifting dramatically, who carry this slight yet deeply affecting film, and they do it brilliantly. Carroll especially shines, crafting a fascinating, complex character, and creating a lovely rapport with McAuliffe that sustains and enriches the story.
As the saying goes, the best things come in small packages, and 'Flipped' is a true cinematic gift, a little film that can speak volumes to almost any age in simple yet potent terms, a film that charms and warms the heart in the best sense, a film that even nourishes the soul. I must admit I got misty-eyed a few times, not because of a plot development or impassioned speech, but because little bits of business – a reaction here, a glance there – resonated with such truth and related so intimately to my own experience. Such affinity rarely happens on film (or anywhere else), and when it does, it's something to cherish. It's not often a family movie can be meaningful to every member of the family, but this one can. Trust me – if you just give it a chance, you, too, will flip for 'Flipped.'
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
A slipcase houses this two-disc set, which comes packaged in a standard Blu-ray case. The movie and special features reside on the Blu-ray disc, while a DVD contains both a standard definition version of 'Flipped,' as well as a digital copy. Upon insertion of the Blu-ray, a couple of trailers automatically run before the full-motion menu with music pops up. In addition to the English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track, there's also a lossy Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 track.
'Flipped' makes its Blu-ray debut sporting a pristine 1080p/VC-1 transfer that perfectly evokes a sense of nostalgia. The slightly faded palette marked by just a hint of fine grain lends an appropriate period feel, but there's plenty of warmth in Thomas Del Ruth's photography, thanks to the often exquisite manipulation of light and shadow. Certain scenes take on an iridescent glow that beautifully reflects and enhances the movie's emotional timbre. Clarity and contrast are superb, but the image still exhibits a natural look that draws us into the action without calling undue attention to itself. (A few shots in the sycamore tree adopt a slightly processed appearance, but such minor missteps are easy to forgive.) Close-ups render fine details well, patterns are rock solid, and textures and background elements remain well delineated throughout.
Colors look strong and vibrant, but steer clear of oversaturation. Greens seem especially lush – the deep forest shade of the school jungle gym possesses some pop, and the verdant hues of the suburban lawns and foliage exude appropriate luster. Fleshtones are stable and true, and black levels, though never truly dense, enjoy good weight. Like many recent releases, not a speck or scratch dot the sleek source material, and no banding, edge enhancement, or digital noise disrupt the viewing experience.
This is an excellent effort from the technicians at Warner that will impress even the most discriminating eye.
Quiet, dialogue-driven movies like 'Flipped' rarely feature the kind of immersive, thumping soundtracks that distinguish the latest action-adventure flicks. But what this 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track lacks in power, it makes up for with full-bodied, nuanced sound that seamlessly integrates itself into the film's fabric. The chirping of birds provides the only distinct surround effect, but the rears are often delicately in play, widening the aural field and adding extra presence. Dialogue is always well prioritized and easy to comprehend, and Marc Shaiman's unobtrusive music score and the wide array of period pop songs sprinkled throughout enjoy fine fidelity and dynamic range. Sonic accents come through cleanly, ramping up tension and impact in the ice cream parlor scene and during a heated dinner conversation at Juli's home, and distortion and surface noise are non-issues. Stereo separation isn't as marked as one might like, and not much bass creeps into the track, but such deficiencies don't detract from the audio's quality. For a film like 'Flipped,' what we have here is more than adequate.
A small smattering of featurettes are the only extras offered. Most are Blu-ray exclusives (see below), but one also turns up on the DVD.
One of the smallest and nicest surprises of the 2010 movie year, 'Flipped' takes us back in time to both a wondrous and uncertain period in our lives, and celebrates all the conflicting emotions, delicate discoveries, and changing ideals that define it. Rob Reiner directs with a firm yet easygoing hand, creating a nostalgic yet timeless mood, and extracts from his fine cast – especially the two juvenile leads – understated, natural performances that make this oh-so-relatable film ring true. Excellent video and audio enhance the presentation, but it's the movie itself that deserves the most praise. I rate it one of the best films of the year, and though 'Flipped' won't win any Oscars, it will win your family's heart. It sure won mine. Highly recommended.