Wednesday, September 1, 2010

'Flipped' Takes Director Rob Reiner on Well-Traveled Journey

"Essentially, I make the same movie over and over again." So says director Rob Reiner, whose new film "Flipped" tackles familiar territory: awkward love.

If you've seen the slightly mysterious billboards featuring two kids sitting in a massive tree, the family-friendly story, in theaters now and based on the book by Wendelin Van Draanen, explores the relationship between Juli and Bryce, who first meet in second grade. Juli (played by Madeline Carroll) is smitten, which annoys Bryce (Callan McAuliffe). But then ... a few years later ... things change.

"It's kind of a companion to 'Stand by Me,' in that it takes place in the late '50s, early '60s," says Reiner, referring to his popular 1986 movie, "and it really focuses on the feelings -- those very powerful, confusing feelings that you have when you're 12 going on 13 -- of falling in love."

I had the opportunity to chat with Reiner and actress Penelope Ann Miller, who stars as Juli's mom, on a conference call, and they were both big champions of movies about real people and the complicated relationships that are part of their lives.

In fact, as Miller says, "We're so inundated right now with movies about people who don't exist, like vampires and aliens and whatnot, and it's just so great to come back to a family film that is about human relations."

And human relations seem to be a Reiner specialty (Full disclosure: I'm a fan of the director, particularly due to his 1989 film "When Harry Met Sally," one of my all-time favorite movies.)

"All the romantic films I've made, from 'The Sure Thing' to 'When Harry Met Sally' to 'Flipped', it's basically the woman -- the girl or the woman -- who has a much better emotional development" Reiner says, stressing the theme that pops up most often in his films. "And the boy is basically running around like an idiot trying to figure out what's going on until he realizes that the girl that he wants is right in front of him. And then she kind of drags him kicking and screaming into maturity."

While "Flipped" centers on the relationship of the boy and the girl, Miller points out that the movie also plays to adults.

"This movie is really not just about an adolescent love story," she says. "It's about life, and about us all. We're constantly growing, and we're constantly trying to find ourselves and be authentic."

Reiner has a particular knack for finding that authenticity in his female characters -- who, more often than not, get major screen time and the opportunity to articulate their point of view. Sometimes very loudly.

So how does he "get" women so well?

"To be honest with you," he says, "the reason it seems like I get women is because, in 'When Harry Met Sally' and also in 'Flipped,' there's a very strong woman's voice."

Reiner recalls working with writer Nora Ephron on "When Harry Met Sally," and he gives credit to the "strong blueprint" in Van Draanen's book "Flipped."

"You should meet his wife," Miller adds, "because she's an amazing woman. She's strong, she's beautiful, and they adore each other. And you can see how much love and respect there is."

"I've often said I'd be lost," Reiner agrees. "I'd be sitting in front of a TV with a remote control in my hand -- and not even turning on the TV. Just sitting there with the remote."

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