Thursday, February 26, 2015

Movie Review #223: "The DUFF" (2015)

Movie"The DUFF"
Ticket Price: $12.50
Director: Ari Sandel
Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 1 hour, 99 minutes
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Bianca (Mae Whitman) is your average high school senior who enjoys hanging out with her best friends Jess (Skyler Samuels) and Casey (Bianca A. Santos). One evening at a party, Bianca's neighbor and childhood friend Wesley (Robbie Amell) informs her that she is a DUFF, or, Designated Ugly Fat Friend, to her two prettier best friends. The DUFF is someone who is more approachable and the person that others can pump for information about her more attractive compatriots. This changes Bianca's whole outlook on her life and she doesn't want to be a DUFF anymore. She makes a deal with Wesley: she will help him pass science if he helps her be the girl guys want, not just the approachable gateway. Madison (Bella Thorne), the hottest and meanest girl is school, doesn't like Bianca hanging out with her on-again off-again boyfriend Wesley and does everything she can to make Bianca's life hell. 


When we first heard the concept and saw the trailer for "The DUFF," we must admit, we feared the worst. It sounded like a horrible movie placing a strong emphasis of superficiality, and we all know that in high school, this can be deadly. When we finally sat down to watch the movie, we have to say, we didn't hate it! Despite its name and its emphasis, it turned out to be your basia teen comedy that tries to convey a message about accepting who you are. In not being the first film to do so, it borrows from many other movies that came before it. There is a little bit of "Can't Buy Me Love" mixed with some of "She's all That" and a dash of "Revenge of the Nerds," plus some sprinkles of "Easy A" and a big heaping spoonful of "Mean Girls." Put 'em all together and you get "The DUFF". Mae Whitman, who is actually in her late 20's, could pass for a high school student being that she is 5 feet 1 inches tall. Knowing her from both "Arrested Development" (her?) and "Parenthood," I was looking forward to seeing her step into a more substantial film role. Her character Bianca, the DUFF, loves horror films, is a really loving person with a lot of intelligence and is an off the beaten path oddball. Sounds like anyone to you? *points to self* As Bianca, she is able to garner some laughs and displays an attitude that just right to fit the part. We must emphasize that, regardless of what the acronym sounds like, Mae Whitman is in no way fat or ugly, and the movie clarifies in its first few scenes that being fat or ugly isn't required to be a "duff," and even people like Tom Brady (their example) is someone else's DUFF (I'm looking at you, Gronkowski, you sexy, sexy beast). Beyond Whitman, Bella Thorne, who plays "that boy" in "Blended" portrays a really good bitchy character! Pretty much everything we have seen her in, she has been at least a little bitchy and that's probably because of her age (she is one of the few people in the film who is actually high school aged). Her character Madison is kind of one-dimensional jerk without much screen time. In fact, she only exists in the movie to serve as Bianca's antagonist and to be rude and nasty to her. Like we said, though, while she plays this part just fine, she's no Regina George. Robbie Amell, Bianca's childhood sort of friend and neighbor, is decent as Wesley. Wesley is a stereotypical dumb jock/"bro" type of guy, but manages to get in a few laughs with some pretty stupid jokes. Amell definitely does not look high school aged, but this isn't really a glaring knock on the film since most TV shows and movies about high school feature actors much older than 14-18. There are some decent supporting roles from Ken Jeong, who plays the more low-key, far less obnoxious character we prefer to see him play. As we have mentioned in movie reviews before, when he acts like a normal, awkward character, we enjoy him a lot more, and it's not until his "wacky" and "zany" voices come out that we begin to dislike him. Allison Janney plays Bianca's mom, who channeled the sadness from her divorce into becoming a motivational speaker. Unfortunately, she also always gives her daughter advice in catchphrases, and until the end of the film, they lack any kind of true mother/daughter spark. Romany Malco is critically underutilized as the school's principle. You could have cast any two "hotter" young actresses to play Jess and Casey and it wasn't until I scrolled up on this very review that I learned their names.

The biggest thing this film has going against it is its plot. While it's not a bad movie by any stretch, the plot is even more than entirely predictable. Audiences can see the end coming a mile away. With the plot in mind, "The DUFF" doesn't do anything truly new to distinguish itself as this generation's 'high school experience' comedy. The only difference between "Can't Buy Me Love" in the 80's, "She's All That" in the 90's, "Mean Girls" in the early 2000's and this film is the age in which we live when it was made. When I was at the tail end of my high school experience, cell phones and even the internet weren't as prevalent as they are today, and we sure as hell didn't have the internet on our phones! BigJ didn't even get a cell phone until we started dating seriously! This is the one place where this film separates itself from its predecessors and really stands out, its integration of social media and cyber-bullying as ways of perpetuating the age-old tweens making fun of other tweens problem. We also like how this movie mentions right at the beginning that high schools aren't fragmented into cliques like they show in other movies. The lines are blurred between groups of friends within a school now, which is also what BigJ and I both knew to be true in our high school experiences (of course, there are always exceptions to this, but generally speaking). In the end, "The DUFF" tries really hard to be the next "Mean Girls," but ends up just short of its perfection and brilliance. Even though it has a good message, eventually, this will be another movie in a long line of pretty fun but pretty forgettable teen-centered comedies.

My Rating: 6.5/10
BigJ's Rating: 6/10
IMDB's Rating: 7.2/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 64%
Do we recommend this movie: Sure, why not?

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