March 1, 2015
The DUFF is latest high school comedy to grace the big screen. It arrives with seemingly modest aspirations and not a particularly aggressive advertising campaign. The movie looked like one that would be easy to skip without missing too much. Still, there was something about that encouraged me to give it a shot, hoping it would be along the lines of Mean Girls (which is pushing 11 years old, has it been that long already?) and Easy A (already going on 5). I am happy to report that it is worthy of being included with those high school success stories, even if it seems unlikely to do similar business.
To be honest, there really is nothing particularly new here. The DUFF follows the tried and true formula that was established years ago. While this may be true, it is not necessarily a detriment, as the formula is executed well and it has a solid cast to rely on, including the lead debut for Mae Whitman (Parenthood, Arrested Development). It introduces its characters and immediately puts them into the character role designed for them. No, they are not particularly well rounded, but they aren't meant to, they need to represent the high school stereotypes we all know.
The story here is an expansion on the old idea that hot people will have a less hot friend to make themselves look better and act as a gateway for potential suitors. In The DUFF, Bianca (Whitman) is informed that she is the DUFF (Designated Ugly Fat Friend). Of course, this does not sit well with her and leads her to try to change people's opinion of her while still trying to retain the essence of who she is. It is a difficult balance to strike, but one that can be had when you allow yourself the courage to be who you are and be the best you that you can be, regardless of others opinions.
That is really all there is too it. What makes it work is the cast and how well they play the roles written for them. The movie does get some bonus points from this horror fan for making its lead a horror fan. I loved seeing the Zombie, Shock Waves, Murders in the Rue Morgue, and Maniac posters in Bianca's room, not to mention a desire to stay home and watch a Vincent Price marathon and another reference to Bela Lugosi. Of course, it also loses some points for forgetting this element in the latter half.
We do get a good look, if not exactly realistic, at the high school hierarchy. It is a good point to remember this is not reality, it is a comedic film meant to entertain, so when you see the mean stuff that happens, it is rather toned down. The point is to notice it. There is a strong current of cyber-bullying to be found with a certain video that is posted and how it affects the victim. On top of that, there is some body shaming going on and it is easy to see how teen girls can fall victim to body image issues and the problems that go along with that.
It covers some issues that were not around in my high school days (there I go showing my age), the whole thing of social media and how it is used by kids to hurt others. I understand a certain amount of bullying will always be around, but kids today can be really mean and hurtful and the access to social media only amplifies the problem. On the other side of the coin, it was amusing to watch friends break up by deleting each other from all of the social media networks.
There really isn't all that much else to say about the movie. It does its job well, it covers familiar ground with enough tweaks to make it relevant to the modern teenager. The cast is solid enough and Mae Whitman does a fine job playing the ugly duckling role, while not exactly being one. First time feature director Ari Sandel does a good of keeping everything on track while the screenplay by fellow feature first timer Josh A. Cagan (based on the novel by Kody Keplinger) keeps everything on track. This is an easy diversion to recommend.
Posted by Christopher Beaumont at 3/01/2015 08:50:00 PM
Labels: 2010s, 2015, Allison Janey, Bella Thorn, Comedy, High School, Ken Jeong, Mae Whitman, Movie Review, Teen, Theatrical Release
Chris has been an avid movie watcher for decades, getting into the writing game in 2004. Since that time he has contributed to a number online publications as well as running CriticalOutcast.com. In addition to movies, Chris is a big fan of music, particularly metal, and will never give up hope on his beloved Mets.