Friday, January 7, 2011

Flipped -- trees and eggs, courage and character

Director: Rob Reiner, 2010. (PG)

Rob Reiner has done romantic comedy (The Princess Bride and When Harry Met Sally), and end-of-life comedy (The Bucket List). Here he turns to beginning of life comedy, focusing on tweens. Writing this screenplay from the book of the same name, this movie is clearly for young teens, with the plot centered on junior high schoolers Julie Baker (Madeline Carroll) and Bryce Loski (Callan McAuliffe). Not a boy's movie, but its heart-warming message will ring true even for them.

The movie opens in the late 1950s when the Loski family moves into a new house. As Dad Steven Loski (Anthony Edwards) starts unpacking the moving van, helped by young second-grader Bryce (Ryan Ketzner), young Juli (Morgan Lily) runs across the street to greet him. Instantly, she is captivated by his baby blue eyes. Flipped, falling in love at the tender age of seven, she dreamily awaits their first kiss! What a welcome to the new neighborhood. Certainly not one Bryce anticipated.
Flipped offers a unique perspective on the relationship between Juli and Bryce. Each scene is played out twice, once through Juli's eyes and then again through Bryce's. Each narrative offers a different point of view, almost as if it were a whole new situation. From this we can understand the mindset of the two main protagonists. And hence how love causes us to flip differently at different times.

From the beginning Juli had her eyes on Bryce, or at least on his eyes. But he does not repay her attention. Rather, he tries to avoid her. It is in junior high that the film really takes off. Juli also has her eyes on nature: one sycamore tree in particular. The tallest in the neighborhood, she regularly climbs it to get the big picture and to serenely relax. Yet, when the owner wants to cut it down, she refuses to come down, electing instead to be a young tree-activist.

The tree is a vehicle to demonstrate Juli is not afraid to stand up for her convictions. Although she has to finally relent, still she can hold her head up high. What is the sycamore in our lives? Do we have the courage to act on our beliefs? Do we even have the courage to climb the tree and take a stand in the first place? Some things are worth believing in and fighting for. Faith is one of them.

The tree incident gets her in the local paper and brings her to the attention of Bryce's grandpa Chet (John Mahoney). In an understated role, Chet is the sage old man, who offers wisdom to all who will listen, including Bryce and Juli, and even to his son-in-law Steven.

The two families are quite the contrast, both outwardly and inwardly. Their yards are the mirror image of their homes' interiors. The Loskis' immaculate yard belies a home that is filled with fear. While the Bakers' yard is a mess but their home is filled with love.

The dads, too, offer two opposites. Both have given up something and pay the price. Richard Baker (Aidan Quinn) has chosen to give up on owning his own home, instead using his money in other ways. Their house is filled with appliances that are on the brink of breaking, but he still prefers to focus on family. Steven Loski has given up dreams of music and now rues that choice. His home is filled with stuff, but his heart is heavy with regret.
These two characters provide glimpses of the impact of courage and cowardice on character. It takes courage to pursue dreams, because they might not be attained. Yet to throw them away because we afraid of failure is to give in to cowardice. Steven has repressed his cowardly choice but it emerges, seeping out in his slow-burning rage. Richard, on the other hand, has accepted that some dreams must be sacrificed for a greater good, and has the courage to face this truth head on. He makes a choice that displays his strength and will not allow the temptations of an easy life deter him from helping his family.

This reminds us to "be strong and courageous" (Deut. 31:6). We may not face the situations depicted here, yet we have our own and we must choose how we respond. It also highlights the concept of counting the cost. Jesus spoke on this to his disciples: "Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it?" (Lk. 14:28). Wisdom must be cemented to courage so we make decisions we can live with and avoid future regrets.

Juli's passion also includes her chickens, offering their eggs to Bryce. Here we see a further contrast in the two families. Juli's gift is one of grace. She wants it to unite her and Bryce and even their families. The Loskis, though, are ruled by fear and see only the potential for salmonella. Such fear drives division, separation and lies. The gift is not received with thanksgiving and joy; it is received with trepidation and dismay.

God wants us to be thankful (Col. 3:15), accepting what others wish to graciously offer us. How we receive gifts speaks more loudly to who we are than giving gifts. Fundamental to the gospel of Jesus Christ is how we receive his gift of grace, the gift of life. When we refuse it, for fear that we must give up on our hobbies or friends, we are dividing ourselves from God. Worse yet, is when we try to add to the gift with works of our own. That subverts the gospel, replacing Christ on the throne with ourselves, as if we can add to his finished work (Jn. 19:30)! No, it is by Christ alone through faith alone -- sola fide.

The more Juli sees Bryce and the cowardice he has picked up from his father the more her eyes are opened. Is he less than the sum of his parts? Chet sums it up for Bryce when he says that character is formed at an early age. Bryce's character qualities include lying, cowardice and shame. Thankfully, Bryce eventually flips, the second flipped of Flipped, and has his baby blues opened.

Like Bryce, we are sometimes given second chances. Even if our characters are cemented in stone and we are at death's door, Jesus can break through and reach us. Pursuing us like Juli pursued Bryce, the Lord wants us for his own. He has flipped for us, and we saw this love displayed on the cross (Rom. 5:8). Have we bottled up our courage and flipped for him?

Copyright ©2011, Martin Baggs

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