Rob Reiner’s Flipped contains a number of elements that would be problematically sentimental individually, but prove disastrous when combined. Where most filmmakers would limit themselves to wall-to-wall narration by telegenic children or a quaint period setting or a kindly, soft-spoken grandfather who speaks exclusively in hard-won life lessons or a subplot involving a mentally challenged uncle with a similar propensity for imparting life lessons or soft-focus, perpetually glowing cinematography that’s equally indebted to Thomas Kinkade and Norman Rockwell or adorable animals or elaborate metaphors about trees or a ubiquitous soundtrack of heart-tugging oldies, Reiner unites all these maudlin elements into one hilariously overwrought romantic comedy. He then slathers on multiple coats of sentimentality, just in case a solitary moment of restraint or understatement somehow slipped through.
Set in Kennedy-era small-town America, Flipped casts Madeline Carroll as an eccentric little girl so precocious, she seems ready to skip high school entirely and run a co-op farm in Vermont the minute she hits her teens. For years, Carroll has nursed a painfully unrequited crush on handsome neighbor Callan McAuliffe, but he sees her only as the weird girl who raises chickens in her yard and stalks him adorably. Then one day everything changes, and this boy with Troy Donahue-style good looks and no discernible personality suddenly falls for a Manic Pixie Dream Girl in training with altogether too much personality.
Flipped boasts a structure that’s novel and promising in theory, but deadly in practice: Its romantic leads take turns delivering narration that skews events distinctly in their individual favor. This results in a film that spells everything out visually, then further elaborates through groaningly obvious dialogue, then drives every point home for slow-witted audiences via shameless narration. Flipped offers an achingly familiar look at puppy love from two contrasting angles, each of them insufferably saccharine. Reiner should just be grateful that a director’s bad movies can’t negate his good ones, or the world would wake up tomorrow to discover that The Princess Bride and This Is Spinal Tap—the last film before Flipped to feature a Reiner writing credit—had mysteriously vanished, along with the respect Reiner once commanded from critics and audiences alike.