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The DUFF, a Story About Teen Angst (Film Review)

DUFF poster


Review by John Delia

It’s a teen nightmare about teen angst, the high school comedy The DUFF leaves little options on whether it can be a real thing. The Mean Girls theme goes one step further into the lives of the bullied with this tale of branding by relationship. It opens the door to what could be another way to retaliate or get revenge using the social networks. While the film does show redemption, it’s a farfetched resolution to a new way of labeling someone.

High School senior Bianca (Mae Whitman) has been leading a good life from childhood to her senior year at her high school. Living next to Wesley (Robbie Amell) the hottest teen in town and captain of the football team doesn’t hurt either. She’s grown up with Jess (Skyler Samuels) and Casey (Bianca Santos) two of the prettiest popular girls in school and they have remained her BFF. Bianca is nothing like her two best friends as she’s a little pudgy, her clothes are dumpy and doesn’t use much make-up, if any. You can possibly even classify her as a nerd due to her scholastic brilliance. Her arch nemesis Madison (Bella Thorn) thinks she’s a pest horning in on her quest to keep Wesley on a leash.

Jess (Skyler Samuels) and Casey (Bianca Santos) with Bianca (Mae Whitman)

Jess (Skyler Samuels) and Casey (Bianca Santos) with Bianca (Mae Whitman)

While she’s grown up with Wesley and since they were kids have shared childhood angst, he’s always been there for her. One day at a party he tells her that she’s a DUFF (Designated Ugly Fat Friend) a phrase she has never heard before. He isn’t being mean to her, he just wants her to know why she hasn’t been asked out on a date. He explains that people who are popular and get a lot of attention have DUFFs for friends. It makes them look better and more attractive he explains. But instead of helping her, it sends her in an opposite direction. Before she spirals down completely however, Wesley decides to help her in exchange for her science smarts. All this takes place within the first 15 minutes of the film.

Director Ari Sandal helms The DUFF as his first full length feature. He does show a lot of promise in bringing good comedy to the screen. I like the way he develops a story, creates situations, and uses good camera angles to catch the right light. However, for this film his only nemesis comes with either the screenwriter or lack of experience. Josh A. Cagan’s script has some very unlikely turn of events concerning Madison’s DUFF who’s her tag along photographer. The girl shows up everywhere catching Bianca with her phone’s video, even when Bianca sneaks off to her favorite rock in the woods. Kind of unrealistic and distracting to say the least.

Bianca (Mae Whitman) and Madison (Bella Thorn)

Bianca (Mae Whitman) and Madison (Bella Thorn)

The film moves along at a pretty good pace and the comedy does take center stage in most every situation. But, are we laughing at the DUFFs or with them? That’s the rub. The film seems to suggest that it’s alright to be a DUFF as even the prettiest person can be a DUFF in a given situation. The film unfortunately inserts the thorn that social media can be a nemesis and does bring a lot of hurt from which some teens may not easily recover. In the film, Bianca is strong and takes the super razzing via the social network in stride. It does make me wonder nonetheless that not all kids can handle the embarrassment so well. Sure this is just a movie, but before I watched it I wasn’t aware of the term DUFF. Will the film open more doors to cyber bulling? Just a thought.

Wesley (Robbie Amell) and Bianca (Whitman)

Wesley (Robbie Amell) and Bianca (Whitman)

The other side of the coin comes with the book written by Kody Keplinger on which the film is based. According to my press notes Keplinger is the bestselling author of the young adult novel “The Duff” (Designated Ugly Fat Friend) ­, which she wrote during her senior year of high school when she was only 17 years-old. The book was published in September of 2010 and was named a YALSA Top Ten Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers and a “Romantic Times” top pick. Now at 23 years-old, Kody has published two more young adult novels, “Shut Out” (about teen angst and sports) and “A Midsummer’s Nightmare” (teen vs divorce), and a middle grade novel, “The Swift Boys & Me” (an adolescent girl wants to save 3 young boys who get depressed).

The DUFF has been rated PG-13 by the MPAA for crude and sexual material throughout, some language and teen partying. The positive aspect shown in the film is that at least a “DUFF” does have friends and in most cases the person isn’t left out in the cold. Be cautious when deciding to allow immature children see the film as it does have some scenes that are inappropriate for adolescents.

FINAL ANALYSIS: Good intentions by the filmmakers with negative results. (D)

Additional Film Information:
Cast: Mae Whitman, Bella Thorne, Robbie Amell, Ken Jeong, Skyler Samuels Bianca Santos and Allison Janney
Directed by: Ari Sandal
Genre: Comedy. Teen
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for crude and sexual material throughout, some language and teen partying
Running Time: 1 hr. 40 min
Release Date: February 20, 2015
Distributed by: CBS Films

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