The DUFF (2015)
Directed by Ari Sandel
Once more, I leave a theater confused about how I could have liked, even minimally, what I just saw. “The DUFF” is just another teen movie, subscribing to every high school stereotype in the book. But at the end of the day, even the predictable, feel-good, cutesy high school love stories can make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside. I know, shoot me now. But, unfortunately, I’m not kidding. Am I going to turn into one of those bloggers that shouts rooftop praises for every atrocious, mass-appeal movie that hits theaters? Am I going to revert back to my lame old high school self and talk about how this social-pecking-order morality play spoke directly to me? Am I going to abandon my values and beliefs as a movie critic and say nice things about a movie whose title refers to the “Designated Ugly Fat Friend”? Well…for a few hundred words more…yeah, I am.
26-year-old Mae Whitman plays Bianca, the DUFF (see above) of her friend group, which also includes attractive budding fashion designer Jess (Skyler Samuels) and attractive soccer player/computer nerd Casey (Bianca Santos). After discovering that she has been serving as a stepping stone to her hot friends for years, Bianca’s confidence takes a hit. So she’s shocked when the boy she has a crush on, Toby (Nick Eversman), approaches her to see if she wants to hang out. Bianca doesn’t know how to date. So she enlists the help of her long-time neighbor and totally platonic friend/football captain Wesley (Robbie Amell) to help her prepare for her big night. But Wesley’s girlfriend Madison (Bella Thorne) gets jealous of the attention he’s giving Bianca, and all-out high school social war ensues.
“The DUFF” lives on social media apps. Every known (and some unknown) social apps are name-dropped, from Twitter to Facebook to Pinterest to Snapchat to Vine…you get the idea. It’s the high school movie of today’s tech-addicted teens (not to sound like my grandmother), and the filmmakers even enlisted their cast to take to the virtual streets to help spread the word. Minutes after I tweeted about the film, actor Romany Malco (who plays the high school’s fed-up principal) favorited it. “The DUFF” has them trained like social media robots. But it speaks to the relevance of a movie like this. It brought a term officially coined on Urban Dictionary in 2003 to the forefront, or maybe just brought it back. Either way, it’s here to stay now.
I can’t give you any insight into the probably-terrible script or almost-certainly-appalling acting, because I didn’t pay attention to that. I was too caught up in the gossip girl high school drama and the immature jokes. Sorry, but I sort of had a good time. Whitman has charismatic charm, a contagious personality that you can’t help but fall for. It helps that she’s nearly ten years older than her character, with a good deal of acting experience, but still. I’m secure enough in my manhood to admit that Amell is hunky and funny enough to steal the heart of anyone, woman or man. And with the likes of Samuels, Santos, and Thorne (she’s only 17, so my adoration for her is criminal), you can’t even pay attention to acting. “The DUFF” just parades around adorably cutesy young adults in a way that effectively distracts us from whatever else it’s doing. It helps that the stars are all mostly anonymous, so you go into it without the expectations of those early-year releases with the likes of Kevin Costner or Johnny Depp (just retire already, Mortdecai). But “The DUFF” sprinkles in a drunk, divorced Allison Janney character (my favorite character in every movie she’s been in, this time playing Bianca’s mom) and an admittedly terrible Ken Jeong (as a journalism teacher who assigns Bianca a dreaded article about the fast-approaching homecoming dance) to give it a little star power.
“The DUFF” is a must-see for high school students. It’s no “Mean Girls” or John Hughes classic, but it’s not all-bad. Even as a predictable, guilty pleasure rom-com, “The DUFF” isn’t the worst thing you can do if you need a feel-good movie to tickle your soul. Take a few friends (don’t forget your DUFF) and go check it out.