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Published: Thursday, 9/9/2010

Will audiences flip for sentimental ‘Flipped'?

Callan McAuliffe, right, and Madeline Carroll are shown in a scene from "Flipped" Callan McAuliffe, right, and Madeline Carroll are shown in a scene from "Flipped"

She's mad about the boy.

But boys being boys, he doesn't share her enthusiasm.

Not at first. She's a tween stalker, if they'd used that word for needy, pushy, too interested suitors back in the early 1960s.

But she has a quality that makes them seem destined to be together. If only he could see that quality. If only he'd start passing those character tests life tosses in front of him.

If only he could stop letting her down.

Flipped is Rob Reiner's sad, sly, and witty might-be-romance between Julie (Madeline Carroll) and Bryce (Callan McAuliffe), a tale told, alternately, from each person's point of view.

Julie is working her way toward getting “my first kiss.” And she's decided it's to be with Bryce. Bryce, from the instant he moves into her neighborhood, deals with Julie with “strategic avoidance.”

As we see the way each one sees the landmarks in their young suburban lives in the early 1960s, the often-sentimental Reiner (The Bucket List, Stand By Me) ladles out genuine moments of heart, and genuine doubts. We sympathize first with Bryce's resistance — just because she wants something doesn't mean he has to give it.

Then we grasp Julie's growing disappointment at Bryce's rejection and peer-pressured hostility.

Life doesn't have happy endings and Reiner, who co-wrote this adaptation of a Wendelin Van Draanen novel, never lets us take for granted that Flipped will deliver one. It's the bittersweet touch that makes this unusual film stand out, and has helped make it such a challenge for Warner Brothers to market.

The kids are spot-on, with Carroll playing the tougher role. Is Julie annoying, stubborn, or just mature for her age? Why can't she pick up the hints that Bryce isn't interested? McAuliffe makes Bryce age-appropriate in his responses. He doesn't want to be mean, but she's pushing him into it.

The adults in this world are their parents — uptight Anthony Edwards and Rebecca DeMornay set examples for Bryce, and the struggling but not sweating it Aidan Quinn and Penelope Ann Miller do the same for Julie. The one person who can see past the kids' differences is Bryce's granddad, played with a homey warmth by John Mahoney.

“A girl like that doesn't live next door to everyone,” he tells his grandson, who ignores him. “That girl has iron backbone.” He calls her “iridescent.” Bryce can't see it.

It's a bit too Wonder Years at times, but the odd two-narrators gimmick plays right into the film's “flip” in structure. Sooner or later, we know Bryce is going to wake up and see those qualities grandpa sees. The way this story plays with our expectations, there's a very good chance it'll be too late.

And after appreciating each person's point of view, seeing the pros and cons of this potential relationship, it's that marvelous uncertainty, doubt, and potential for dashed hopes that give Flipped its novelty, a flipped take on tween-to-teen romance that make it such a minor gem.

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