Best known for his love stories of the 80s like “The Sure Thing,” “The Princess Bride,” and “When Harry Met Sally,” director Rob Reiner is hard to top when he’s creating classics. In his 15th feature film of his career, Reiner returns to the 1950s for the first time since making “Stand by Me” to direct “Flipped,” a coming-of-age film about a teenage girl (Madeline Carroll) and her lifelong crush on the boy of her dreams.
There’s a strong sense of love and friendship in all your movies going back to the 80s. Is that a conscious decision you make when you start a new project?
For me, I basically tell the same story over and over again. There is a girl or a woman who is always more emotionally developed. She’s much more mature and knows what she wants and has a greater sense of herself. The boy or the man is always running around like an idiot trying to figure things out until he realizes what’s right in front of him is a terrific person. Hopefully, the girl can drag him kind of kicking and screaming into maturity. I tell the same story over and over again because it’s basically what happened to me.
Tell me about your first childhood love and what made her special to you.
Well, I was 12 going on 13 just like the characters in the movie. It was in the late 50s, early 60s. Her name was Cathy and she looked a lot like Hayley Mills in the old “Parent Trap.” She had blonde curly hair and she was kind of athletic. We exchanged ID bracelets. I remember the first time I went to kiss her she hit me with her hairbrush. That’s when I knew I was in love because I was willing to endure pain to get a kiss.
What kind of kid were you at that age? Were you popular with girls?
No, I was kind of quite. I was a very quite and shy kid. I was a good athlete, but I was very scared and nervous around girls. I think most boys are especially at that age. It’s so confusing. You’re having these incredibly powerful feelings.
I know you moved from New York to L.A. around that age, so was it an easy adjustment for you having to start all over and make new friends?
No, it was very tough. They made fun of me. I had this New York accent. They would be like, “Say ‘coffee.’ Say ‘ball.’ Say ‘water.’ And then they would laugh at me when I said the words because of my accent. It was a tough adjustment for me. But like I said, I could play a little baseball so eventually they allowed me in their group because I could play ball. If I couldn’t play ball I probably wouldn’t have had so many friends.
“Flipped” takes us back to when we first fell in love, which could be a great experience, but it could also be a painful one if you’re a sensitive kid getting dumped at 13. Do you think that’s something each of us just has to work through depending on our own experience?
Absolutely, and I think that’s why the film works. It works for people of all ages. Kids who are going through it right now can identify with the characters. Then, the parents and the grandparents can identify with it because they can remember the time that they first fell in love. It works on different levels.
The original book is set in the present time, but you decided to change that and set it in the 50s. It’s been 14 years since you did “Stand by Me.” Did all those feeling rush back?
Yes, because you never forget the first person you had that crush on. It never goes away. That time is very vivid in my mind. I look at this as almost a companion piece to “Stand by Me.” That explored the bonds of friendship that boys have with each other and this one is about first love.
At the age of 63, can you know say that you understand women?
No. I think we spend our entire lives trying to figure out the opposite sex. It’s lifelong work.
Do you consider yourself a hopeless romantic?
Well, I am pretty romantic. I think my work kind of reflects that. I believe in love and I believe love has a way of making people’s lives work and be great. So, yeah, I guess from that standpoint I am.
So, what’s the most romantic thing you’ve ever done for someone or vice versa?
I think the most romantic thing my wife ever did for me was give birth to my children. I’ve never had such strong feelings of love for her or my kids at that moment.
Movies like “Flipped” aren’t really made anymore in my opinion. Is it more challenging as a director today to get a film made than it was 25 years ago?
It is because studios are not really interested in making these character-driven films. I made movies about human being that live on earth. Studios are more interested in movies where things get blown up or people are either aliens or vampires or something. They’re not interested in human stories. I think ultimately they’re the stories that resonate the most with the audience if they get a chance to see them. With a film like this it’s tough to market, but if we can get them to see it, they love it.
Is it disappointing to you as a filmmaker who has worked so consistently over his entire career to see how Hollywood has changed in these terms?
Well, I still believe there is an audience for these kinds of movies. I mean, I made “Bucket List” a couple of years ago and that was a very tough movie to get made even with Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman. The studios didn’t want the movie because it was about two old guys dying of cancer. Yet, the picture did $185 million and was a huge success. I think people do want to see movies about people where they can relate to what’s going on with them and make a connection. I think those films are hard to market. Studios would much rather market something that’s easy like a franchise movie or a sequel where they know there’s going to be a built-in audience.
How you would react if someone decided to remake one of your movies?
Well, whoever owns the rights it’s up to them to do whatever they want. I say if you did it right the first time there’s no reason to remake something. Nobody’s making “Casablanca” over again. There’s a reason for that. There’s movies that stand the test of time and still work today.
I really do think everything you did in the 80s and early 90s will definitely do that. Last question, which of the “Stand by Me” boys do you think Madeline Carroll’s character in “Flipped” would have a crush on and why?
I think initially she would probably have a crush on Chris Chambers, the River Phoenix character, but ultimately she would probably see there was more going on with Gordy. I think girls when they’re young they want the bad boy, but then eventually they marry the nice guy, hopefully.