The DUFF is an Just Another Underdeveloped Teen Comedy
Directed by: Ari Sandel
Written by: Josh A. Cagan
Based on: The DUFF: (Designated Ugly Fat Friend)
by Kody Keplinger
Starring: Mae Whitman, Robbie Amell, Bella Thorne, Bianca A. Santos, Allison Janney, Ken Jeong
Running time: 101 minutes
Rated PG-13 for crude and sexual materal througout, some language and teen partying
The DUFF a teen comedy that fails to rise above the common tropes of its own genera, in spite of originating with a novel that by all accounts is much more substantial. In a point in time primed for a more progressive teen comedy, this film is woefully inadequate. The filmmakers chose a shallow comedy by offering platitudes in place of a more responsible social narrative. As a whole, this film does not say anything that John Hughes did not say better 30 years ago. The missed opportunity for social responsibility aside, the film also struggles with inconsistent pacing, and tone. The majority of jokes are cheap, and condescendingly juvenile, they frequently used vulgarity as the means to a cheap laugh. The humor generated this way is fleeting. The few moments of genuinely funny well-crafted humor are fleeting are overshadowed by the more adolescent. Given that this is a film for adolescents, it is entirely appropriate to present that that level of humor, although I find it pandering to the lowest common denominator, robing this film of value. Still for pure entertainment, it is not irredeemable, and it does attempt to deliver an uplifting meaning. We were fortunate to be in a theatre packed with the target audience, (young women around 15 – 20 years old). Fortunate because those of us outside that targeted audience had the chance to see, and hear, how that audience received the film. In this case, it was well received by the target audience, but that does not excuse the vapid nature of the film. This was, at its core, a classic frumpy-duckling transformation tale, sans transformation.
Bianca (Mae Whitman) is an average high school senior. She has two more popular and prettier best friends, Jessica (Skyler Samuels) and Casey (Bianca Santos), an intimidating crush Toby (Nick Eversman), and a ruthless bully Madison (Bella Thorne). Her world comes crashing down when Wesley (Robbie Amell), the football-team captain and chauvinist, matter-of-factly informs Bianca that she is ‘The DUFF’ (Designated Ugly Fat Friend) to her prettier, more popular friends. Believing her life-long friends are in on this she breaks off her friendship with them, and sets out to break free of the DUFF label with the help of Wesley, in exchange for her helping him pass chemistry. Bianca’s metamorphosis is undermined, and she is dragged through the mud by Madison who believes Bianca is trying to steal her on again and off again boyfriend. In spite of the ruthless bullying Bianca manages to ask her crush out on a date, proving, so she believes, that she is free from the being The DUFF.
As I had said before this film is not an irredeemable teen-comedy, but it most certainly plays that way. The aspects in which this film could have elevated itself are numerous. Primarily it failed to address the serious nature of the vicious bullying Bianca encounters adequately. She is able to shake it off, and unfortunately so does the school, save a vaguely harsh school wide chastisement and temporary ban on cell phones. The perpetrators of the harassment suffer no ill effects, not even a mild public shaming for their actions, and Bianca is simply told to “grow a pair”. This felt irresponsible of the filmmakers, in that they sidestepped the issue entirely. Aside from the sidestepped bullying issue, the secondary irredeemable quality of this film is the way the primary character, Bianca, is almost single-minded in her pursuit of Toby. This comes off as shallow, and robs her of the positive effective positive growth. Why is landing a boyfriend the end of this character arc? The jerk Wesley has a more dynamic arc than Bianca does. Yet, in spite of the countless flaws and reasons for teenage girls to avoid this film, it still offers funny moments, and at least ends with a message of self-acceptance, and the value of friendship.