The calendar says Rob Reiner is 63, but in some ways, he's still stuck in adolescence. And he's the first to admit it.

The veteran writer/director (The Princess Bride, Stand by Me, When Harry Met Sally, The Bucket List) is feeling his age in some ways; he says he's learning that life is precious, so he's trying to make movies with more depth and significance—much like his favorite film of all time, It's a Wonderful Life.

Rob Reiner

Rob Reiner

Reiner has come a long way from his days as Michael "Meathead" Stivik on the great 1970s sitcom All in the Family. He's settled down, been married 21 years, and has grown into one of America's most beloved directors. But he's still drawn to the days of old, to those teen and tween years of angst and powerful (even conflicting) emotions—so well depicted in Stand by Me. And now Reiner, who once told the New York Times that he thinks of himself as "a very young old person," is revisiting the same era in his latest film, Flipped, a sweet romantic comedy opening this week.

Based on a novel of the same name, the film's story takes place in the 1960s, centering on tweens Bryce Loski and Juli Baker. She fell for him back in the second grade, but he's girl-phobic and the vibe is quite unrequited. But over the next six years, especially as they move into junior high, Bryce's feelings begin to change … maybe. Meanwhile, their very different families also have much to learn from one another—and that things aren't always as they might appear on the surface.

We recently caught up with Reiner to talk about the movie, his own childhood (and his first love), and how getting older has helped him to appreciate "family values" more and more—even as he longs for the old days of growing up in the '50s and '60s.

Why did you want to turn this book into a movie?

I read the book with my son Nick when he was 11; now he's almost 17 now. I literally flipped over reading it. It brought me back to the time I had those confusing, powerful feelings of falling in love for the first time when I was 12 going on 13. It just reminded me so much of when I was a kid. And it was written in such an intelligent and insightful way, much more sophisticated than a normal juvenile type book. I thought [author] Wendelin Van Draanen really captured what it felt like to go through those feelings.

Reiner on the set with Madeline Carroll and Callan McAuliffe

Reiner on the set with Madeline Carroll and Callan McAuliffe

It's a contemporary book, but you decided to take the setting back to the 1960s.

I did that because that was the time when I was coming of age. The other reason was because I wanted to strip away all of the distractions that kids have today with Facebook and texting and Twitter and all that stuff, and focus just on the feelings—which are really the same, no matter what the timeframe is or where you live. Those feelings are the same for every kid who's going through that time of life.

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Do you think Twitter and Facebook get in the way of some of those feelings?

It's certainly a different way of communicating than we did at that age. In the film, when the boy wants to talk to the girl, he goes over to her house and he knocks on the door. Kids don't do that now. They just Twit. They text somebody. You don't pound on their door. So the communication forms are different, but I think the feelings are still the same. I think today's technology makes it simpler and quicker to communicate with somebody, but I don't know whether or not those interactions are as deep as they might be if you're face to face with somebody.

There's something to be said about that 12-year-old nervousness of actually standing three feet away from a pretty girl …

Absolutely! I mean, it's mortifying.

You just don't get that with an instant message.

No, you don't. I think one of the reasons that kids text each other is because it is kind of safe. You know? It's not as … Well, you're not putting yourself out there as much. It's a way of hiding behind that stuff until you feel a little bit more confident and comfortable with them.

But I remember when I was twelve and the first girl I ever fell in love with. Her name was Kathy Schrillo. We exchanged ID bracelets and all this stuff. I was so nervous. She was so cute; she looked like Hayley Mills in The Parent Trap. I'd never kissed a girl before, and I remember the first time I tried to kiss her. She hit me with a hairbrush. And I thought this must be love, because I'm willing to endure pain in order to get a kiss.

Ha! She lived in your neighborhood?

Two blocks away from me. It was eighth grade. And then they moved out of that neighborhood, and I never saw her again. But to this day, her house is not very far from where my office is now. Sometimes I'll drive a couple of blocks out of the way just to pass the house, just to look at it. I mean, you never forget those things.

You grew up in New Rochelle, New York, and your dad modeled the Petries' neighborhood [on the Dick Van Dyke Show] after your own, right?


Were the Reiners like the Petries?

It was similar in that my dad worked on Your Show of Shows, Sid Caesar's show in the 1950s. So he certainly wrote about what he knew—being a dad in a suburban neighborhood who went to work as a comedy writer and a performer. And we lived on 48 Bonnie Meadow Road, and the Petries lived at 148 Bonnie Meadow Road. And in Flipped the two families that live across the street from each other—the Loskis and the Bakers—they live on Bonnie Meadow Lane. I made that as an homage to my childhood and the Dick Van Dyke Show.

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As you directed Bryce's character in this film, did you see yourself in him?

Yeah. I think a lot of boys experience the same thing. In all my romantic comedies—from The Sure Thing to When Harry Met Sally and The Princess Bride and now Flipped—it's essentially the same story. In my experience, the girl is always so much more emotionally mature, and the boy is always kind of running around like an idiot trying to figure out what's going on, till he's kind of is dragged into maturity by the girl. Even to this day—I'm 63, and my wife and I have been married 21 years—I'm still being dragged into maturity by her. You know? I always think the boys don't see what's great about the girl until they start maturing a little bit.

I hear you enjoy working with kids on the set.

Yes. I had two great actors with Madeline Carroll and Callan McAuliffe. They were like adults, so you don't have to talk down to them. They had great maturity in their acting craft. They always say the acorn doesn't fall far from the tree, and it's true: Both Maddie's parents and Callan's parents are really good, loving people, and it's reflected in their kids. So it made it really pleasant for me. I had the best experience I've ever had.

Is it fair to compare Flipped to Stand by Me?

Absolutely. It's like a companion film to Stand by Me. Stand by Me focuses on those strong bonds that boys have when they're first growing up; we even say at the end of the film that you never have friends like you do when you're twelve. And then this film is about the strong and powerful, confusing feelings of falling in love—and it's the same time period, and it's the same age range for the kids. So they're very similar.

Is there a little bit of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice in this story? You've got a rich kid and the girl is sort of from a "lower class," and …

Yeah, but he's not really rich; they're middle class, and Juli's family is like lower middle. The Loskis have the post-war American dream of living in the suburban neighborhood with the split-level house, and the mother looks like somebody from Ozzie and Harriet or Leave It to Beaver. Everything on the surface seems perfect, but underneath there's some dysfunction in the family. The father has some resentment because he's been living a materialistic life and has given up on some dreams he had as a young person.

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Across the street you've got the Bakers. The house is a little run down; the yard is kind of unkempt. But underneath all of that you got these incredibly beautiful family values—love and how they respect each other. The father's brother is mentally disabled, and he takes cares of him. So the values that Julie grew up in are the ones that are important, but the ones Bryce grows up with are not as solid. But partway through the film, Bryce's grandfather comes to live with them after his wife passed away. He's basically the moral compass of the movie. He basically takes Bryce under his wing and shows him what's really important in life. He shows him how great the Bakers are and how great Julie is; he puts Bryce on the straight path. So it's really about not only about first love, but about these two families and the different values they have—and how when you're 12 going on 13, you really need an adult figure to put you on the right path.

As you've gotten older, it seems you're making films with a bit more substance.

Well, as you get older, life becomes more and more precious when you realize you're not going to be around forever. So you want to have your films reflect the values that you think are important. My favorite film of all time is It's A Wonderful Life. I first saw it in my early 20s, and I was knocked out by it—the angel coming down and showing Jimmy Stewart what his life would be like if he had never been born. I've seen the film like 40 times, but it becomes more and more meaningful to me as I get older, because life becomes more precious. It makes you realize that your life is important to the people who love you and the people around you.

When you're young, you're kind of thumbing your nose at society a lot of times. You're angry. You reject a lot of what's going on. But then you reach a certain point where it's not about what you're against; it's about what you're for. So as I've gotten older I wanted my work to reflect the things that I think are important. That's why I made The Bucket List (2007), because it's about embracing life. I want my films to reflect that.

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What's on your bucket list, Rob?

When I made The Bucket List, one of the things on my list was to go to Africa on a safari, a photographic safari. And I got to do that about a month ago; I went to the Serengeti and the Ngorongoro Crater and the Maasai Mara. So I got to check that off my list. It was a profound spiritual experience for me to travel through those areas. You get the sense of where you as a human being fit into the scheme of things, and how we have to be good stewards, because we're the most evolved of the animals. It inspires you to want to do a better job.

Learn more about Flipped and watch the trailer here.