Take a Drink: whenever anyone says “DUFF” or any variation of the word (“Duffy,” etc.)
Take a Drink: at every mention of a social media platform.
Take a Drink: every time Bianca insults Wesley. Take Two: when she throws a drink or food on him.
Take a Drink: at every nod to a teen movie that came before.
Take a Drink: whenever there is a fantasy sequence.
Take a Drink: every time Wesley is shirtless.
Do a Shot: whenever there is text on screen. Do a Double: when it is the word “Amazeballs.” (Please can we make that word go away?)
By: BabyRuth (Three Beers) –
While there have been plenty of films targeting the teen demographic, there haven’t been very many high school comedies lately. A staple of the 80s and 90s, they seem to have taken a backseat to dramatic Young Adult novel adaptations. Besides Mean Girls which was over a decade ago, the only one that comes to mind is Easy A, and even that’s five years old. So we are way overdue for a new tale of teen life which doesn’t include sparkly vampires or post-apocalyptic anything.
Along comes The DUFF, which also fits the trend of being a Young Adult novel adaptation (the book was also written by an actual young adult- author Kody Keplinger was only seventeen at the time).
As you are probably aware by now, the title is an acronym for Designated Ugly Fat Friend. One doesn’t necessarily need to be ugly or fat to be labeled as such, just less attractive/popular/athletic/talented____ than the other members of the group.
Got it? Not quite? Okay, let’s play a round of Spot the DUFF:
We’ll start with an easy one.
Obviously the answer here is Screech.
How about this one?
Did you say Chris Kirkpatrick? Very good! Now you’re getting it!
Okay, try again, this one’s a little harder:
Gotcha! This one’s a trick question. Even though one of these people is named Duff, it’s Steven Adler.
Take what you learned from that last one and apply it here:
It’s Haylie! See, once again, you can have the name Duff, but not be a DUFF. Unless you are.
I’ll give you one more shot in the double-or-nothing Bonus Round. Think carefully:
TRICK QUESTION! There are actually two DUFFs here (the two that are not named Beyonce).
The DUFF is thought to be more approachable than the non-DUFFs and his or her role (whether aware of it or not) is to be the gatekeeper to the more desirable of the pack. In return, the DUFF gets to reap the benefits of being popular by association.
The high-school hierarchy has changed since the days of brains, athletes, princesses, criminals, and basketcases, however there are still cliques and labels. Bianca (Mae Whitman), a senior who prefers flannels to designer brands and loves foreign horror movies, is about to learn this. Her two besties Casey (Bianca A. Santos) and Jess (Skyler Samuels) look as though they just stepped off the runway at Fashion Week, but Bianca is comfortable with herself and sees them only as her lifelong friends.
That is until her next door neighbor/childhood friend/ “man-whore”/jock Wesley (Robbie Amell) makes a comment at a party informing Bianca of her DUFF status.
Suddenly, her entire world is flipped and she soon sets out to un-DUFF herself, starting with dumping Casey and Jess not only from her life but – gasp!– social media. She also enlists the popular Wesley to assist her in her reinvention, in exchange for helping him pass Chemistry.
Of course, no teen movie would be complete without a requisite mean girl so cue shallow, aspiring reality star Madison (Bella Thorne), who is not very happy about a lowly DUFF spending time with her on again-off again boyfriend Wesley and sets out ruin her life via viral video.
But Bianca has her sights set elsewhere, specifically floppy-haired, guitar-strumming, “amazeballs” Toby (Nick Eversman). While usually witty and confident, she can’t even manage to squeak out three words to him.
Will Bianca succeed in re-inventing herself and win the boy of her dreams? Will others be able to see that she’s all that even though she wears overalls? Will a lesson be learned? More importantly, will there be a prom?
If this description makes the movie sound dumb, superficial, and derivative, well, that’s exactly what I expected it to be. As I sat in the theater surrounded by tween and teen girls who literally couldn’t even, I was filled equally with dread and excitement. The dread of having to sit through it and the excitement of knowing that this would be an easy review because for me, the worse the movie the easier (and more fun) it is to write about.
Guess what though? This was a damn good movie and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
It’s apparent right away that director Ari Sandel and screenwriter Josh A. Cagan are big fans of John Hughes as well as the teen movie genre in general as there are countless references to films that came before, some obvious and some not as much. From the tone and overall feel to little visual touches, like the Laney Boggs-esque overalls Bianca wears and her multiple ear piercings which resemble the ones Watts sported back in 1987 (there’s also a great homage to Some Kind of Wonderful), they are pulled off in such a way that they come across as loving tributes rather than sloppily packed in for cheap nostalgia. While the younger crowd may not pick up on many of these things, their parents surely will, as well as most children of the 80s and 90s.
That’s not to say this movie could ever be mistaken for any time period other than early 2015. At times the social media name-checks get a little tiresome (the end credits actually feature the stars’ Twitter handles), but there’s no disputing that these things are a huge part of teenagers’ lives. Their presence is a timestamp, but by no means is it a dealbreaker for the chance at this movie’s longevity. We’ll just laugh at the mention of Snapchat the same way we now laugh at the beepers and flip-phones in Clueless.
What’s new here is the approach to the familiar material. The writing is sharp and the dialogue sounds natural, like the way kids actually talk and not the way some out-of-touch screenwriter thinks they do.
The main strength of this movie is its cast. I predict we’ll be seeing a lot more leading roles for Mae Whitman as a result of her terrific performance here. She’s likable and relatable with impeccable comic timing and is never afraid to go all out for the laughs. Her costar Robbie Amell is no slouch either. His Wesley could have been a very one-dimensional and unbelievable character if played by another actor, but he nails it.
Together the pair is perfection, playing off each other with an ease that would suggest they really have known each other their entire lives but with enough underlying sexual tension that the viewer roots for them to get together (don’t even act like this is a spoiler – it’s obvious from the trailers who Bianca ends up with. The fun is in watching it get to that point). It also should be toasted that Whitman and Amell are twenty-something actors playing teenagers who actually pull it off.
The supporting cast is great too. The always-a-treat Allison Janney is hilarious (if a little underused) as Bianca’s jilted-wife-turned-self-help-guru mom. Ken Jeong is thankfully subdued as a concerned teacher. Bella Thorne’s bitchy Madison is a little one-note, but then anyone who has ever had a high-school bully probably remembers them as nothing but pure evil (my gum-in-the-hair wounds have still not healed all these years later). It would have been nice to see the characters of Jess and Casey fleshed out a little more than “fashion designer” and “hacker” (how did they become friends with Bianca since they don’t seem to have much in common?) but Skyler Samuels and Bianca A. Santos do just fine with what they have to work with.
Have I mentioned yet that this movie is funny? Like, real actual audible laughing funny? There are many great moments and sight gags and it’s all whizzingly fast so even when something doesn’t hit, there’s a new joke that does right behind it. Again, much of this is due to the talented cast, Whitman in particular. Get this woman as guest host on Saturday Night Live stat!
The main message of the film is a bit muddled and contrary. On the one hand, post-DUFF improved Bianca is more confident and put-together and yes, even has a (slight) makeover. But then, what’s this stuff about reveling proudly in your DUFFness? The whole DUFF thing is really just a springboard for a teen romance story, and that’s fine, but it would have been nice if the message was a little clearer. Bianca’s big speech at the end feels rushed and tacked-on.
Yes, it’s extremely predictable. It checks all the “teen movie” boxes: there’s a slow-motion walk down the school hall, there’s a prom, there’s the protagonist-penned essay that everyone in the entire school reads at exactly the same time and relates to, it’s all there (well everything except a slowclap ). But honestly, so what? It would feel weird if these things were missing.
It’s fitting that this movie is being released nearly exactly 30 years to the day of The Breakfast Club, as The DUFF is a surprisingly worthy successor to the films that came before, paying tribute while adding its own unique spin. Even if you are no longer or never were a teenage girl, it’s a fun watch, especially for the hilarious and charming performances from Mae Whitman and Robbie Amell.
Last Call: Stick around for some outtakes and follow the cast on Twitter! (really)