Like several Rob Reiner films, Flipped (2010) is a hidden gem that you could be forgiven for overlooking as a consequence of some questionable marketing that doesn’t do it justice. It’s almost criminally underrated, with a 55% rating on rotten tomatoes and a 45 on Metacritic. Its user ratings are better (78% and 7.9 respectively), but Flipped is certainly more of a cult classic than a box office hit.
As Carrie Rickey (Philadelphia Inquirer) also notices, Flipped is strikingly similar to my other all-time favourite Reiner film: The Sure Thing. Both are presented around a premise – Walter Gibson’s (John Cusack) ‘sure thing’ and Bryce Loski’s (Callan McAuliffe) ‘flip’ – that is not truly an accurate reflection of what I believe the films are really about. And, like The Sure Thing, Flipped is a Hollywood rarity bordering on the miraculous: a coming-of-age story that adopts a pure, hopeful, optimistic conception of true love that’s deeply intertwined with self-esteem.
As the late, great Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times) points out, The Sure Thing is remarkable because, despite what its title implies, “it believes sex should be accompanied by respect and love.” Ebert captures my sentiments entirely: “when Walter and Alison finally do kiss, it means something. It means more, in fact, than any movie kiss in a long time, because it takes place between two people we’ve gotten to know and who have gotten to know each other.”
Flipped is, to borrow from Kirk Honeycutt (Hollywood Reporter), a similarly genuine expression of real “compassion and insight into young people’s battles to acquire self-knowledge” and self-esteem. Far from being a sappy rom-com about two kids who fall awkwardly in and out of love, to my mind, Flipped is a mature, genuine coming-of-age story about a girl who learns to love herself first and a boy who develops the wisdom and confidence to fall truly in love.
One of the reasons I love Flipped is that Juli Baker (Madeline Carroll), despite being a fictional character, is something of an idol. One of the highpoints of the film is a scene in which Juli, upset at Bryce’s failure to stand up for her, realises that “Bryce had never been a friend to [her],” refuses to accept his apology and tells him that he’s a coward – even though she’s been enamoured with him from the day they first met. Bryce continually fails Juli over the course of the film, often in the most heartbreaking of ways and when she needs him the most. It’s for this reason, rather than his initial disinterest in her, that it’s so gratifying and empowering to watch her reject him – entirely in spite of her strong feelings for him.
Juli Baker is a remarkable character because she deals with Bryce’s disinterest in the most incredibly mature, optimistic, empowering way possible. Instead of wallowing in self-pity, she develops a stronger sense of her own individuality and identity: taking a stand to save her favourite sycamore tree, raising her hens and sharing the eggs around town, working on her family’s front yard, and growing closer to her father. It’s this strong sense of self that makes Juli so attractive, as a person, to Bryce, his grandfather Chet (John Mahoney) and the audience.
Bryce too develops, although in a somewhat less gratifying, less empowering way than Juli. The highpoint is certainly Bryce’s argument with his best friend Garrett near the conclusion of the film. In that moment, Bryce bravely disregards the opinions of his closest peers and takes on a vulnerability that involves real courage (courage and vulnerability Juli has displayed the entire time, mind you). While Juli happily stands out for most of the film, for Bryce finally to overcome his conformist desire to ‘fit in’ speaks to his character progression. This is what eventually makes him truly loveable to Juli.
The most rewarding element of the love that Juli and Bryce develop for each other is its authenticity and maturity. As the film ends, Juli realises “all these years … we never really talked.” There’s a great deal of truth, to my mind, in that observation that true love requires us truly to know ourselves and each other. You get the sense that Juli and Bryce will grow genuinely to love one another, not just their own ideas of one another. Just like Walter and Alison (Daphne Zuniga) of The Sure Thing, their love is so genuine and so moving because it’s grounded in a knowledge of each other and themselves. We should all be so lucky.