From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a
human point of view; even though we once knew
Christ from a human point of view, we know him
no longer in that way.
2 Corinthians 5:16
But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear.
Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould, but let God re-mould your minds from within, so that you may prove in practice that the plan of God for you is good, meets all his demands and moves towards the goal of true maturity.
Romans 12:2 (J.B. Phillips Version)
Some critics have compared director Rob Reiner’s new film unfavorably with his Stand By Me, a film also about childhood, set in the 1950s. However, to this reviewer, Flipped is a far more rewarding film (as much as I liked his 1986 work) theologically. Although about the relationships of a boy and a girl over a 7 year period, the new film could be seen as being about seeing another person through new eyes—and the need for an agent of grace for the change to take place. The film, which Reiner co-wrote with Andrew Scheinman, and based on the novel by Wendelin Van Draanen, also can be viewed as a character transformation film, in this case that of an adolescent boy who journeys from shallowness and intolerance to a degree of maturity and acceptance.
When the Loski family moves into the neighborhood, their 2nd grade son Bryce wants no part of Juli Baker the girl who comes from across the street to help them unload the moving van. He (and his father) rebuffs her, even when she touches his hand, or, when, the next day at school, she rushes down the classroom aisle to welcome him with a big hug. He is embarrassed, and very upset when classmates continue to tease him about his “girl friend.” This sequence is narrated by Bryce (Callan McAuliffe), now in the 8th grade. Then we revisit the scene with Juli (Madeline Carroll) narrating her version, a very different interpretation in which she thought Bryce had wanted to kiss her when she took his hand, and then at school thinking that his further reactions to her attempts to befriend him was a result of his shyness. Because of her misunderstandings, she continues to reach out to him—which he misconstrues as “stalking.” Thus the film title takes on several meanings—the old 50s term of describing how a girl “flips” over a boy—in her case because of his bright eyes—and the constant flipping back and forth to reveal Bryce and Juli’s very different interpretations of the same incidents. Director Reiner even uses a flip of the frame for his major transitions between scenes instead of dissolves or fade outs/fade ins.
Bryce is typical of boys in that bygone age before the media flood hastened children’s awareness of the attraction between the sexes. (I spent a similar 7 years in the decade preceding his, a time when we shunned the companionship of girls because, as we declared, they had “cooties.” ) Despite Juli’s persistence in reaching out to him, he turns her away, the most cruelest rejection being his reaction when she pleads with him to climb up with her into the large sycamore tree to prevent a team of workers from cutting it down.
Gracing her front yard, the tree is like an old friend for her. From high up in it’s lofty branches, she can look out over the countryside beyond their suburb and enjoy its splendor. Like the artist Monet, she revels in the different colors that the sky, landscape, and clouds take on at various times of the day. However, her family rents the house they live in, so when the owner decides to take out the tree, the crew shows up with their chainsaws and orders her to come down. (One of the things that Bryce says he has disliked is that every morning as he and his friends wait beneath the tree for the school bus, Juli is up there giving a block by block account of the progress of the bus as it heads their way.) In tears, Juli implores the boys, and Bryce in particular, to join her in her refusal to obey the workers’ commands to come down.
Bryce boards the bus with his friends, leaving her alone to confront the crew, until her sympathetic father climbs the fire truck ladder and coaxes her down. A newspaper reporter who arrived with the fire department and police at the scene, and it is his published account about the plucky young girl whom he admires that will play a significant role later on in Bryce’s life. From that day forward she rides her bicycle rather than the bus to school.
It is not until Bryce’s maternal grandfather Chet Duncan (John Mahoney) comes to live with the Loski’s that Bryce begins to change. We have seen something of the two families to see how different they are. The Loskis are prosperous, with Steven the father (Anthony Edwards) very acerbic in his comments: his harsh judgment of the neighbors across the street would have landed him in the camp of the Pharisees had he lived in ancient Palestine. Bryce’s mother Patsy (Rebecca De Mornay) is for the most part submissive to her husband, though later she takes the lead in bringing the two families together. Bryce has a teenage sister who enjoys teasing him about Juli.
The Bakers, headed by Trina (Penelope Ann Miller) and Richard (Aidan Quinn) seem at first like an ideal family, though living close to the poverty line despite Richard’s job of bricklaying. Besides Juli there are her two older brothers who are talented musicians, and even Dad is into the arts, spending his spare time painting landscapes. We learn that they spend a large portion of their income supporting a mentally challenged brother in a private institution, rather than a public one where he would essentially be warehoused. Our idyllic picture of the family is disrupted when Trina’s suppressed resentment over diverting their funds from their children to her brother-in-law erupts into a family quarrel.
All of the above we, and Bryce, learn after Grandfather Chet, who had been watching in silence, the comings and goings of the Bakers, goes over and befriends Juli. When he discovers that Juli has been hurt by a thoughtless comment of his grandson about the rundown estate of their front lawn, he helps her to fix up the yard, even to assisting in building and painting a wooden fence. Thus this man of grace becomes the catalyst of change in the relationships between the two families, and of Bryce and Julie in particular. Bryce has been under the influence of his best friend Garrett (Israel Broussard), who had judged Juli so harshly that he seems like a clone of Bryce’s father. It will be necessary for Bryce to break free of the friend before he can emerge from his self-centered shell and, in the words of the apostle Paul, “regard no one (read “her” ) from a human point of view.” I love the closing image of the film that calls to mind earlier ones in which Juli expresses her love for the sycamore tree. If your eyes are not a bit moist at this point, then you must have joined company with the critics so proud of their sophistication that they sneer whenever a film “sinks into” such “sentimentality.” The preview audience, I was glad to see and hear, gave the film a big round of applause.
This is a wonderful film for youth groups and families to see and discuss, as well as one that might bring back for older viewers memories of times past. For me, I loved the depictions of Julie’s love in perching near the top of the
sycamore tree and reveling in the view, bringing back for me my love for a towering old tree close to our house in an Indianapolis suburb, from the top of which I could see the Soldiers’ and Sailor’s Monument miles away in the center of downtown. Or also, the disdain which we boys in elementary school held for girls, and our slow awakening to feminine charms that we experienced by the 7th and 8th grades. Do not see this film alone: there is just too much in it calling for sharing of emotions and thoughts!
For Reflection and Discussion Spoilers might follow.
1. How do the two characters, Bryce and Julie, compare at first? Which has depth of character, and which is shallow, maybe even unlikable at first? If you felt the latter, did your feeling change, and when?
2. What do you think of the device of flipping from Bryce’s viewpoint to Juli’s? How can this help us to see that there is more than one way to “read” an occurrence? Can you think back to any incident in your past in which someone and you disagreed about what happened or to its meaning? (If you want to explore this further, a good film in which a terrible event is shown from various viewpoints is The Outrage, an American Western based on Akira Kurosawa’s classic samurai-era film Rashomon.)
3. Compare the two families. Which is most prosperous, and which seems most happy? The one parent who seems to remain largely unchanged during the course of the film, is also the one for which we are given the fewest details of his background: were you surprised to learn that Steven Loski once played the saxophone? Does he show any artistic interests/inclinations now? What do you suppose might have happened along the way to embitter him so? (Note that at first I was not sure whether Chet Duncan was his or his wife’s father, and so I was relieved to learn in the credits Chet’s last name was not Loski.)
4. How is Juli very much her father and mother’s daughter? How do we see that she is a person of grace? (Remember Eddie and the silence in the auditorium when his lunch was offered up at the auction?)
5. What do you think of Juli’s egg project? How does she get launched in it, and what are the two major results? (Think “Science Fair” and “business.” ) Why does she not charge the Loski’s for their eggs? Why does Bryce think they are contaminated? What do you think of his attempt to deal with her daily delivery of them?
6. How do we see that Chet Duncan is a person of grace, very different from his son-in-law in the way that he looks at people? Think/talk about the “moments of grace” involving him—trimming the hedge; putting up and painting the fence; even the way in which he talks with his grandson about Juli. Note his restraint however, whenever his son-in-law makes his nasty comments.
7. Chet’s talking with Juli is at first resented by Bryce because Chet had not talked with him when he first moved in: why do you think this had been the case? Because of his fresh grief over the loss of his wife? (Indeed, what was it that first motivated him to go over and talk with Juli?
8. How is Juli’s father’s gift of the painting to her both an act of grace and a means of healing her broken heart? What do you think he meant earlier when he told her that she must see the whole picture and not just some its components? How do we often forget this and get lost in details of a subject or issue? (Like the saying “Not seeing the forest for the trees” ?)
9. Note how Bryce slowly changes in his regard for Juli, at first being attracted to the more glamorous classmate Sherry. At what point did he come to see that brains and character are more important than physical beauty? (Hint: “perpetual motion” is involved.) How does the newspaper article about Juli become almost an icon for Bryce? How is it a prick to his conscience? (Note also who gave it to him—another act of grace?)
10. What held back Bryce for a long time from regarding Juli through new eyes? How were his dad, his classmates, and especially Garrett, a part of the world’s “own mould” ?
11. What do you think Juli’s visit with her uncle Daniel contribute to her own development?
12. Juli too needs to grow beyond her resentment of Bryce’s treatment of her. How does she move on? How is Bryce’s persistent attempts to set things right akin to the teaching of Jesus in Matthew 5:34-34? How is his gift at the end of the film the perfect gift, reflecting on Juli’s passion for something that was cruelly taken from her?
13. How have you needed to “see” through “new eyes” in your past life? Was it because of prejudice members of certain races or groups? Since 9/11 whom do we need to see through new eyes? For more on this theme of “seeing” check out my review of James Cameron’s Avatar or How to Train Your Dragon.
14. Neither family seems to be especially religious, so even though God is seldom if ever mentioned by the characters, at what points do you think the Creator is moving in their midst?