The Duff (2015)

I know we’ve been here before, dear friends, but I love teen movies. It comes from a childhood of watching John Hughes films and wanting to be Ally Sheedy or Molly Ringwald. There is nothing like sitting down with a shitty teen film; mostly because they only last about 90 minutes and don’t require any real thought. Although, now I’m inching ever closer to the big 3-0, I can’t help but find teen movies to be too fucking egotistical. Most films I’ve seen think they are much better than they actually are and than their predecessors. Obviously there are some exceptions, like 2010’s Easy A, but I’m just cold to most modern films in this genre. Particularly when the latest one, The Duff, opens with a declaration that The Breakfast Club (the King of all teen movies) is now irrelevant. You aren’t winning any fucking points with that kind of talk.

The phrase “the DUFF” is an acronym for Designated Ugly Fat Friend: a delightful term for that one member of any social group that is less desirable and easy to overlook. God knows, we needed a name for it. The job of the DUFF is to make their hot friends seem hotter and give lesser humans the chance to get closer to the beautiful people. Just when you thought modern society couldn’t get anymore fucking depressing Urban dictionary comes along with another gem like this.
After being forced to go to a party she didn’t want to attend, Bianca Piper (Mae Whitman) is crushed to be told that she is the DUFF of her threesome. Her childhood friend and jock neighbour Wesley (Robbie Amell) delights in explaining that, whilst she’s not exactly fat or ugly, Bianca is nothing in the grand scheme of things and only seen as a way for other guys to get close to her best friends, Casey (Bianca A. Santos) and Jess (Skyler Samuels).
This revelation sends Bianca into a downward spiral where she abandons her friends and questions her entire existence. Bianca, as it turns out, is a fucking idiot. Rather than ignoring the morons that fail to see her for who she is, Bianca turns to Wesley to My Fair Ladyher into someone men can’t ignore: particularly her long-term crush, Toby.
Unfortunately, the increased attention that Wesley is giving Bianca is noticed by the popular people and his ex-girlfriend, Madison (Bella Thorne), is particularly pissed-off. Madison is the Regina George of 2015 but with a greater arsenal of social media outlets to help her campaign of hate. The Duffmakes countless references to popular internet outlets at every turn: Bianca and her friends “defriend”, block and delete each other from their various accounts whilst Madison posts socially crippling videos of Bianca on YouTube. Whilst it may appeal to the younger generation, it seemed like a fucking desperate attempt by the filmmaker to seem relevant. The Duffwill get annoyingly dated the second the world realises Snapchat is a piece of shit.
It’s fair to say that Mae Whitman and Robbie Amell are the two bright points in an otherwise pedestrian teen comedy. Whitman has proved many times before that she excels in a supporting role thanks to her turns in Arrested Development, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, and Parenthood. Here she is able to make Bianca a funny, clever and realistic portrayal of a teenage girl. She is a charming character more easily compared to Juno than the typical teen movie heroine. I immediately warmed to Bianca and have added her to my list of style icons. She’s a fucking babe and I want her wardrobe.
Whitman has a great co-star in Amell to help her develop the emotional side of the story. Bianca and Wes have known each other since childhood and have delightful moments of banter and refreshing honesty with each other. The moments when the pair are allowed to remove themselves from the High School backdrop and get to grips with one another are the moments that really stand out. The pair bring heart and wit to a story that doesn’t really stand-out from the crowd.
For there is nothing clever about The Duffand certainly nothing that makes it a classic in the way that Clueless, Mean Girls and 10 Things I Hate About You are. The narrative is so fucking obvious from the outset that you won’t even get through the opening introductions before you realise who Bianca will end up with. There is no real time for character development within the tight plot. The supporting cast never get the chance to make much of an impression and proven actors like Allison Janney are left spouting uninspiring platitudes.

Even the two main characters only get a small amount of emotional growth as the writers seem too scared to tackle subjects that may seem too deep. There are moments when the pair bond over their fractured home-lives but this connection is quickly severed in favour of more soppy teen romance. It is true that Amell is able to bring out a second layer to the stereotypical Wes but he isn’t able to go any deeper.

The Duffis a good enough entry into the world of teen movies but it’s not the kind of thing that will stand the test of time. More than anything, it’s confused about what it’s trying to say: on the one hand it’s extolling the virtues of being true to yourself and on the other praising the decision to reject society’s labels and improve yourself. It’s too much of a fucking chicken to go deep enough in certain key issues like cyberbullying and merely scratches the surface in the way a Daily Mail scare piece might..

The Duffwill no doubt appeal to its target audience thanks to its main cast and characters but it’s unlikely to speak to an older audience. There is nothing too terrible about it but there is much that could and probably should have been improved. It tries to say something meaningful about society but in the laziest possible way. There are a few humorous turns and amusing lines regarding the teenage reliance on their phones and social media. You won’t necessarily remember The Duff in twelve months time but you also won’t still be regretting watching it. 

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