Among Hollywood Studio storytellers of the last half century, I can’t think of anyone better than Rob Reiner. I’m talking about straightforward storytelling done well which is something remarkably hard to come by in recent times. Reiner is a better director than Ron Howard and Steven Spielberg.
But it has been years since he gave us a good picture. Well that is until last year’s Flipped, which is such a return to form for the director, it feels like the last fifteen year slump never happened. Reiner made a cameo appearance in Albert Brooks’ Hollywood satire The Muse, where he plays one of the many Hollywood professionals who get a creative jump start from modern-muse Sharon Stone, and my Cinema Station partner in crime Gus Edwards likes to joke that maybe Reiner really did see a Muse. After watching Flipped, I wouldn’t be surprised.
There’s no flash to it. Nothing extraordinary other than extraordinary characters. The boy and girl that center the movie behave like kids, not Hollywood constructed cute balls. The adults are well-rounded: human, sometimes lovable, often nasty and selfish. The movie has no grand arch or dramatic constructs; it’s a small story.
It echoes the work of the younger Reiner who made some of Hollywood’s best. I’m thinking of Stand by Me, The Princess Bride, Misery, When Harry Met Sally, A Few Good Men, and The American President. What a gallery of solid pictures and what an exploration of genres.
Gus first alerted me to Reiner’s genre-jumping, saying that in the 80’s and 90’s he couldn’t wait for the director to tackle a Western, a Musical, or even a Film Noir. I agree and a big part of me hopes he still will. He has the smarts of a Studio Professional who knows story well enough to actually give us a good Western. His chameleon efforts are far under appreciated when you consider the fantasy world of Princess Bride with the boyish adventure of Stand by Me and the utter shock and horror of Misery.
But after The American President, a great film, somehow Reiner drifted away from this pattern of top-notch storytelling. I’ll admit to not having seen many of the movies he made in the late 90’s and early 2000’s (North, The Story of Us, Alex & Emma, and Rumor has It) but even from afar I can tell they lack the charm and wit of his previous work.
What astounds me is that he still had at least one good picture in him. As directors age, it seems almost impossible for most of them to either evolve in more challenging and interesting ways or to at least be able to make movies as good and creative as they had. Take Martin Scorsese for instance, who I doubt may have another great picture in him, as great as Raging Bull. The few filmmakers that stayed vibrant to the end of their careers (I’m thinking Stanley Kubrick and the still working Werner Herzog) exist on the fringes of cinema, stretching the medium in new ways. As for Hollywood professionals at the end of their careers, even my favorite director Howard Hawks couldn’t produce a movie as sharp as Rio Bravo in the last four or five he directed.
So Reiner’s career as a good storyteller is not over. He may have more movies in him like Flipped. I’m sure that this blog is out of earshot for him but nevertheless let me say this in case he can hear.
Rob, some of your movies mean a great deal to me. They stick with me through the years and I sometimes feel uncontrollable urges to revisit them. I wasn’t paying attention to your work for a while but I am now. Make movies with the heart of Flipped. Give us some good stories. We need them. We need them like we need food and water. I’m in your corner, man, and I’ll look forward to the next one.