Rob Reiner: Directing Hearts in Motion in Flipped
- Wednesday, August 25, 2010
When it comes to love, who of us didn't grow up with the warning to "guard your heart"? Whether the impetus was Proverbs 4:23or not, we were warned to be careful when it came to handling or mishandling our innermost being.
Hopefully, once we'd reached adulthood most of us had learned that important lesson. But back in the days of adolescence, it could be an overwhelming time while experiencing the confusing thoughts and emotions that come when first falling in love.
Director and screenwriter Rob Reiner (The Bucket List, TV's All in the Family) remembers this all too well from his youth, and perhaps that is why the young-adult novel Flipped by Wendelin Van Draanen resonated with him when he first read it while on a family vacation years ago.
"[My son] said, ‘Dad, I think maybe we should read this.' And so we started reading it together, and I literally flipped over the book," Reiner remembers. "It was so intelligent and insightful and with such depth and about what kids really go through when they're falling in love for the first time. And my son Nick said, ‘Dad, I think this would make a great movie.' And I said, "I think you're right.'"
On the surface, a heartwarming, lower-profile film might seem like an odd career choice from the director of big-budget hits such as The Sure Thing, The Princess Bride and When Harry Met Sally. But at the heart of it all, it's about the story.
"I essentially make the same movie with men and women," Reiner explains. "This is my experience: that women, girls, are way more emotionally mature than boys generally speaking. And they kind of know who they are. They know what they want in life, and the boys are kind of idiots running around trying to figure stuff out. It's not until they come into contact with the right girl that they can be dragged toward maturity. [Flipped] is the same story in that way."
Love at First Sight
First love begins at the get-go as seven-year-olds Juli Baker and Bryce Loski meet when his family moves into the house across the street. She's immediately love-struck and gets lost in his "dazzling" eyes. Bryce, on the other hand, isn't so sure about this plucky and outspoken new neighbor who is wedging herself into his life and even tries to hold his hand. He's mildly intrigued, and a little scared to be sure, but he does what he can to politely keep his distance.
Fast forward to the days of junior high and 13-year-old Juli (Madeline Carroll, Swing Vote) is a science whiz, still has confidence to boot and still has a crush on Bryce (Callan McAuliffe, Australian television's Comedy, Inc.), who is now even dreamier and unfortunately for Juli the object of affection of many other female classmates. So how can she get him to notice her and not those other superficial, popular girls?
Reiner, in collaboration with screenwriter and longtime associate Andrew Scheinman, decided the best way to translate this first crush to the big screen was by changing the setting from modern day (as it is in the book) to about fifty years earlier. Director of Photography Thomas Del Ruth was also enlisted to create the same nostalgic look and visual warmth as he had on his previous collaboration with Reiner in the 1986 classic, Stand by Me.
"I kind of wanted to strip away all of the distractions that kids have now today with Facebook and texting and all of that," Reiner says of his decision to switch eras, "and just focus purely on the feelings that you have, which are the same throughout time. [The story] took me back to the feelings that I had. You know, those very confusing, powerful feelings you have when you first fall in love. So I set it back in the late ‘50s, early ‘60s because that's when I came of age."
According to Reiner, nothing else needed to be changed when adapting the story for film, and so he utilized the same he said-she said convention as in the book. Through voice-overs, Juli describes her interactions with Bryce from her point of view, and then the same scene plays out again from Bryce's perspective. It could have been risky to replicate on film, and Reiner did have second thoughts before doing so.
"We were a little nervous about doing it in the film," he admits. "But then I realized it worked so well in the book, and it certainly kept my attention and captivated me. I thought, Why couldn't it work in the film? And I think it does, because just when you think you know what happened, you'll see [Juli's] point of view and it's completely different. Boys and girls look at things in totally different ways."
Learning by Example
But the differences don't stop there. The teens' parents interpret life in totally different ways as well. Viewers soon discover this as the story develops further, beyond the facades of each family home and into the hearts of adults who appear one way initially, but soon are revealed for who they really are inside.
In the Loski household, everything looks perfectly appointed. From the shiny family car to the home's meticulously manicured lawn, to the stylishly coiffed mother and successfully employed father, the Loskis have got it all. Or do they?
"You've got this post-war dream of living in this split-level house and they've got everything," says Reiner. "But underneath there's this kind of disharmony, and there's an anger that the father has because he's put all of his values in the wrong place—in material places."
Over at the Baker's rental home, things couldn't look more the opposite. The yard is dead, the bushes are overgrown and Mr. Baker's dilapidated pick-up is an eyesore in the driveway. Out back, chickens and their ramshackle coop have taken over the yard. But what serves as the canvas for this picture of poverty is a family rich in integrity and love for one another.
"They have these incredibly strong, powerful family values where they really value the right things," Reiner shares. "Love, family, sticking up for each other, and the parents have a really good relationship—not without problems, but it's solid."
But that's not what Bryce sees. As a teenage boy who's wired for the visual and also being influenced by the thinking of his small-minded father, Bryce decides that the Baker family isn't good enough. And, by association, maybe neither is Juli.
Look a Little Closer
"Luckily for Bryce, his grandfather comes to live with him because the grandmother has passed away," explains Reiner. "And this guy is able to be the kind of moral compass for Bryce and … put him on the right path."
In an interesting twist, one day Grandpa Chet Duncan (John Mahoney, Dan in Real Life, TV's Frasier) gets up from his chair and crosses the street to forge a sweet friendship with Juli, after Bryce makes fun of the Baker family's lawn right in front of her.
Ever the industrious worker and problem solver, Juli has decided to help out her family (and their neighborhood image) by taking over the lawn herself, and she is eyeing the overgrown hedges when Chet shows up with his clippers to help. Over the course of the lawn reno and redesign, Chet gets to know Juli for who she really is and even tells her that she reminds him of his late wife.
Later, he encourages Bryce to take another, closer look at Juli and reconsider the changes in his heart: "Some of us get dipped in flat, some in satin, some in gloss. But every once in awhile you find someone who's iridescent. And when you do, nothing will ever compare."
"Even though it's a story about kids," Reiner summarizes, "it's also a story about family. I think ultimately older people, parents and grandparents, will get more out of it than kids. But hopefully, you'll be a little bit refreshed to see something where you can see yourself in the movie.
"You know, it's like I say: ‘I like to make movies about human beings that live on earth.' And hopefully you'll see something you can connect with."
Distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures, Flipped is rated PG (for language and some thematic material) and stars Madeline Carroll, Callan McAuliffe, Rebecca De Mornay, Anthony Edwards, John Mahoney, Penelope Ann Miller and Aidan Quinn. It releases in select theaters on Friday, August 27, 2010.
Photos © Warner Bros. Pictures. Used with permission.
For more information about Flipped, please visit www.flipped-movie.com.
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