Me and teen drama/comedies…they seem to go hand in hand at times. I supposed there’s just something about high school BS that intrigues me. Some say that we never progress beyond our high school selves, but I don’t buy it — when it comes to me, that is. I certainly have no desire to return to my high school years, but for some reason that I can’t explain, I just like watching these stories play out on the big and little screen.
Which brings me to “The Duff.” Yes, the movie has been out for almost a month, but last week asked Julie if she was willing to see this film, and she said she did (Maybe she shares my fascination with teen comedy/dramas, too). So, off we went to our local cineplex to see the latest incarnation of the teen comedy drama. Like most of these movies, they tend to center on a girl. Why? Maybe because girls are more interesting than guys. Or maybe it’s because girls are more likely to watch these movies than guys. Perhaps it’s a combination of both, but like “Awkward,” “The Duff” has an off-kilter lead character named Bianca (played by Mae Whitman). Bianca has two very popular, and way-too-talented best friends (Casey and Jess) who are the “pretty ones” whom all the boys have wet dreams over. Bianca seems content with her life as a bookish overachiever who is gaga and speechless over a guy (Toby) who is also extremely talented (he writes songs and plays the guitar and has bunch of girls pining away for him). Bianca’s next door neighbor (Wesley) is a jock who shoots straight with her, teases her, and seems to like that he annoys her. Well, I think you can see where this is going in this love triangle.
The film has some good moments between Bianca and Wesley (he’s the one who informs her that she’s a “Duff” — as in Designated Ugly Fat Friend). Of course, when you see Bianca, she’s none of these things. However, as Wesley explains, Bianca is less attractive than her best friends, and they are only friends with her so they can stand out in a crowd, and so she can be a gatekeeper to her friend’s potential suitors. At first Bianca is furious at the term (who wouldn’t be?), but then she starts to notice the no one at her school seems to give her the time of day, never says hello to her when she’s with her besties, and if guys do talk to her, they only want to know if Casey or Jess is interested in them. In short, she starts to see the world as a Duff. How all the conflicts resolve themselves won’t surprise anyone, but I won’t spoil the plot for those who want to see this movie (you could wait until it comes out on DVD or is available to stream). Suffice to say that I did enjoy this film. It wasn’t as funny as it let on, but if it wasn’t for the performance of Mae Whitman — who nails this role — it would have been a direct to DVD release. “The Duff” is also novel in that it’s the first teen comedy/drama to seamlessly weave in the ubiquity of social media into the lives of teenagers. While movies like “Chef” did feature social media prominently (or as my father in-law once said, “People ask me what “Chef” is about, and I say, it’s about food and Twitter”), “The Duff” does so without social media being presented as something new — rather, like it is in life, it’s the new normal.
Where the movie falters is the way it tries too hard to entertain by adding unnecessary flourishes to make a point. Scenes of Bianca having fireworks explode around her while “Ode to Joy” plays at full volume felt forced, or having her vamp it up in a clothing store while modeling outfits Wesley picks out for her was just unrealistic. At times, she’s breaking things and climbing all over shelves of clothes — which made me wonder, “Where the hell are the store clerks?” And there was also the reaction of Bianca’s classmates to a shaming video that went viral that seemed over the top. But teen dramadies aren’t known for their subtleties, so some of what the filmmakers contrive can be either forgiven or just chalked up to a narrative hazard of the genre. I came out of the theatre feeling like the movie was an 8 out of 10. Julie, however, said it was a 6 for her. Since marriages often involve compromise, let’s just say “The Duff” is a 7 — or if I were to give it a letter grade, it gets a C.