It’s probably a small miracle Flipped got made and released in today’s market, and that it’s as good as it is. Reiner has a tendency to make overtly sentimental films, and his latest release is no exception. In fact, sitting through it requires such a tolerance for sugary schmaltz, that you’ll do yourself a favor if you bring an insulin kit with you to the theatre.
That said, it’s also an extremely touching and affecting movie. Part of this is due to Reiner’s capable direction, even when he’s wading through stretches that verge on the almost unbearable, but most of it is the result of young actress Madeline Carroll in the role of Juli Baker. The character she plays has the unfortunate social stigma of coming from a lower-middle-class home, and in the suburban neighborhood setting of the movie, that alone is enough to keep her out of the school’s highest social circles, though it’s never primarily focused on. But it reads, as does the ostracizing that results from her being outspoken, sticking up for herself, and believing in her personal causes. She’s the kind of girl who kids have a bit of a predisposition against. She’s also the kind of girl who’s a beauty ahead of her years, and who wise adults can recognize clearly as such. As is the case with John Mahoney’s grandfather Chet Duncan, who’s quite taken with the girl across the street who reminds him of his dead wife, even if his grandson Bryce is swayed more by his peers’ judgements. All of these characterizations and elements play right on the surface of the young actress, are visible in her face, demeanor, and general energy. This isn’t just a child actor playing a role, as is the case with her male counterpart in the film; it’s an instinctively inhabited role achieved with effortless grace.
Part of this is the result of natural beauty, honesty of being, lack of affect, and an inherent maturity. But part of it is also due to a formidable growing acting talent. With anyone else in this role, the thick sugar-coating of the film would have overwhelmed and made the movie all but impenetrable. But Carroll’s natural charm and easy grace make the emotional connection with the audience immediate and strong, and anchors the film as it progresses through retellings of a childhood romance in a he-said/she-said format. It also grounds the film as it probes a little deeper than most films might, and explores the familial, economic, and societal influences forming the maturing psyches of the two young leads Juli and Bryce, which in turn informs their interactions with each other and the possibility of them pushing past these predispositions to genuinely connect with each other.
The supporting adult cast is also very strong, and includes Aidan Quinn and Penelope Ann Miller as Juli’s parents, John Mahoney as Bryce’s grandfather, and Anthony Edwards as Bryce’s resentful and brooding father. The film would have been strengthened by a final rewrite reducing the overall sugar content, but the completed version still manages to genuinely connect, and signals Carroll as the new Hollywood wunderkind.