Can it be love at first sight if you're seven years old? Flipped proposes that, yes, it can, if you're a bold and lively little girl; the little boy who is the object of her affection might need a few more years to catch on. When Juli Baker spots the Loski family moving in across the street, she strides right into the moving van and tries to lend a hand. Bryce and his dad are put off by her intrusiveness, and Bryce escapes under the pretense that his mother is calling him. From Bryce's perspective, goofy Juli just can't take a hint and runs after him, pursuing him to the point that he has to hide behind his mom.
But then the episode is run through again, this time from Juli's point of view. What Juli sees is that Bryce is just as smitten as she is. When he pushes her hand away, he's trying to hold it, she thinks. She reads in his "dazzling eyes" a love that is fully requited. He's "walking around with my first kiss inside of him," she tells herself.
Thus begins "a half-decade of strategic avoidance and social discomfort," Bryce tells us. Juli continues to get starry-eyed whenever Bryce is around, even leaning forward from her school desk to sniff his hair, to his overwhelming embarrassment. Through the years Bryce continues to be discomfited and irritated by her attentions. It doesn't help that Juli's family is weird: her overworked mom cooks, cleans, and holds down a job while her dad stands outside painting landscapes. Their front yard is a wreck, the embarrassment of the neighborhood, and Juli develops a habit of spending hours sitting in a sycamore tree.
Then, when Bryce is in 7th grade, his recently-widowed grandfather Chet comes to live with the family. About this time Juli learns that her tree is going to be cut down, to make way for a house. She occupies the tree in order to save it, and the newspaper runs a story headed "Local Girl Takes a Stand." For Chet, this is the kind of spunkiness his dear wife would have shown, and he begins to encourage Bryce to get to know Juli better. For Bryce, however, tree-sitting is more of the weirdo behavior that has had him running in the opposite direction for years.
The novel Flipped, by Wendelin Van Draanen, has been a hit with kids in that 10-14 age bracket for whom feelings about romance are new—exciting, confusing, and seldom efficiently in synch. Van Draanen's technique of telling an incident from both points of view amounts to a tutorial in adolescent romantic communication.
But director Rob Reiner has brought the story to the screen aiming, I think, at a different audience. Youthful fans of the book can be taken for granted, but Reiner has transposed the action from the present day (as it is in the book) to 1963, angling for a catch of baby boomers as well. The result is a relentless exercise in nostalgia—clothes, hair styles, cars, and doo-wop soundtrack—that begins to feel manipulative.
In a way, the film is a throwback to two of Reiner's hits from the 1980s, When Harry Met Sally and Stand by Me. Flipped may have looked like an opportunity to emulate the first by depicting a romantic relationship as it evolves over time, and the second by setting events in the context of sentimental boomer adolescence. The result feels labored. In Stand by Me there was a much-quoted, delightful sequence in which the boys discuss whether Mighty Mouse or Superman would win a fight, and what kind of creature Goofy is. In Flipped, Bryce's best friend Garrett complains that there aren't Three Stooges, there are five, and that Curly Joe shouldn't be counted as a Stooge at all. This patch of dialogue sounds like something developed after consulting a focus group.