Title: The DUFF
Ugly *And* Fat? Are Both Required? I'm led to understand it can be either, or, or even none of the above. Outrageous.
Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film: Three Duffmans (Duffmen?) out of five.
Brief Plot Synopsis: Allegedly unattractive high school student has the improbable last laugh.
Tagline: "Every DUFF has their day."
Better Tagline: "Nerd gets Revenge on those who claim she's not Pretty in Pink."
Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: Bianca Piper (Mae Whitman) is enduring her senior year of high school with best friends Jessica and Casey as well as can be expected. That is until lifelong neighbor/antagonist Wesley (Robbie Amell) casually points out she's the Designated Ugly Fat Friend of the trio. Angered yet strangely empowered by the news, Bianca casts aside Jessica and Casey and enlists Wesley's help to overcome her DUFF-ness and finally hook up with dreamy guitar dude Toby (Nick Eversman), because abandoning lifelong friendship for teen romance is the dream of every girl.
"Critical" Analysis: I believe it was John Milton, or maybe John Hughes, who once said, "Civilizations will rise and fall, and trends in facial hair will wax and wane in popularity, but movies about the misery of the high school experience are eternal."
Of course, only in Hollywood -- and perhaps the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue -- is a woman of Mae Whitman's dimensions "fat," and by most measures she couldn't be considered "ugly" either, but there we are. Of course, the movie quickly backpedals from the strict acronymic definition to make the term "DUFF" indicative of any awkward, unpopular teen (in other words, 90 percent of them). This, I feel, is a mistake.
Movies from Revenge of the Nerds to Airheads have all been guilty of this same overenthusiastic sense of inclusion, when in spirit the concept of a "DUFF" should be more beholden to Frank Zappa. I mean, the head cheerleader comes over to the geeks' side in Nerds, while Airheads gives us freaking *Lemmy* as the guy confessing to editing his school newspaper. It's an insult to true dweebs everywhere.
The DUFF doesn't need to succumb to these clichés, because it's quite charming in its own right. Credit for most of that goes to Whitman, who is genuinely "adorkable" [kills self] as Bianca and not at all unacceptable from an adolescent desirability standpoint. I mean, I'm fairly certain every nerd I (*cough*) had passing familiarity with at that age would've beaten a Jolt Cola-fueled path to the door of a girl who had posters of both Shock Waves *and* Lucio Fulci's Zombie in her bedroom.
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It also doesn't hurt that Kody Keplinger wrote the novel when she was still in high school, so a great deal of the dialogue feels authentic, or at least does to a guy several decades removed from that particular ordeal (one example: "Those were pity @RTs"). First-time director Ari Sandel also gets effective performances out of a surprisingly disarming Amell, Allison Janney (as Bianca's self-help guru mom), Ken Jeong (Bianca's journalism teacher) and Belle Thorne, the only actual teenager in the cast who -- as Wesley's horrible girlfriend Madison -- resembles a psychopathic Jessica Chastain.
What flaws there are come from the crap that always gets shoehorned into these movies: There's a montage of Bianca trying on different saucy outfits, the requisite misunderstanding where Bianca thinks Wesley uploaded an embarrassing video of her (spoiler: It was really Madison!) and the dawning realization that maybe, just maybe, Bianca is pursuing the wrong guy entirely. Then again, I could be put off by Toby's resemblance to Joe from Say Anything.
All of which makes us ask: Why should she have to land a guy in the first place? We need more realistic high school movies getting wide release. For example, one where the main character has a shitty romantic experience, listens to depressing music and won't leave his or her room for months (my poison was Pink Floyd's The Final Cut), and then realizes: Hey, high school is obnoxious and bullshit and maybe I should just get on with my life. If history (Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Dazed and Confused) is any indication, they come along every decade or so, and we're well overdue for another.
But even if it serves up the happy ending audiences apparently insist upon, the good in The DUFF mostly outweighs the stuff you've seen before.