Home » Years » 2015 » The Duff •••

The Duff •••

The_Duff_posterStarring: Mae Whitman, Bella Thorne, Robbie Amell
Director: Ari Sandel
Screenplay: Josh A. Cagan, Kody Keplinger
Comedy, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 101 minutes
Release Date: February 20, 2015


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(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

Greg, we just saw a movie that reminded me of 2004’s Mean Girls.

I thought this was going to be the life story of Hillary Duff. Let’s recap…

We meet high school student Bianca Piper (Mae Whitman), who is a bit of a nerd. Bianca has two best friends, Jess (Skyler Samuels) and Casey (Bianca A. Santos), who are taller, prettier, and more popular than Bianca. One day Bianca’s next-door neighbor, Wesley (Robbie Amell), informs her that she is ‘The Duff” — the designated ugly fat friend. People tend to use the Duff to extract information about the more popular members of the group. At first, Bianca resists this labeling, but soon she discovers that Wesley is correct.

And so the fix is in as Bianca bargains with Wes to fix each other. Wes will “un-Duff” Bianca, and “Bee” will help Wes pass his classes so that he won’t be kicked off the football team. If this sounds familiar, it should because it’s the basic plot of “10 Things I Hate About You” or just about any John Hughes movie. In fact, the opening scenes reference “The Breakfast Club” by stating that once the world was simpler when people were just jocks, basket cases, etc… but now things are more complicated and we enter the world of the Duff.

Greg, given that the theater in which we saw The Duff was packed full of teenage girls, I’m surprised that I walked away with a positive opinion of the movie. This film won me over with its sweetness and wisdom in portraying a character that I can certainly identify with – a loveable nerd who doesn’t seem to fit in and must undergo a good deal of suffering before significant personal growth can occur. Bianca Piper wows us with her intelligence, sensitivity, and nerdy goofiness. Mae Whitman deserves great props for delivering a terrific performance.

This movie follows the classic pattern of a romantic comedy. We have a boy and a girl who start out hating each other. As soon as we see this set-up, we know that this hatred must turn into love by the end of the film. Robbie Armell does a fine job portraying not just any stupid jock, but a stupid jock with hints of potential. To win Bianca’s heart, Wesley must prove himself to be more than just a handsome muscle-bound fool. He takes a long while to remedy his Neanderthal ways, but he does achieve a sensitivity that wins over Bianca.

The villain in this film is the super popular Miranda (Bella Thorne) who has aspirations for her own reality-TV show. She has an overblown image of herself and a huge sense of entitlement. She waltzes into and out of a relationship with Wesley. This uncovers part of Wesley’s missing inner quality – his lack of self respect. Bianca’s mother is recently divorced and runs a support group for divorced women. She is also self-absorbed and spouts motivation-speak for her daughter when what Bianca really needs is a mother, not a coach.

While the film toutes the fact that there are many more types of people than “jocks, geeks, princesses, etc…,” I was able to detect only two types of people in the film: the princesses and the Duff. All the girls in the movie were Barbie-doll perfect, and Wesley bore an uncanny resemblance to Tom Cruise. There wasn’t a lot of diversity and for me it made the film seem two-dimensional.

True enough, Greg. The Duff is populated by beautiful people, with even the so-called ugly fat friends looking like supermodels. It’s unfortunate that Hollywood clings to the belief that no one will see a movie with people you might actually see in real life. The character of Miranda is a mastermind villain who presides over her collection of nameless minions who do her bidding. Every decent person but Wesley pretty much knows she’s pure evil, and we forgive him because we remember that he’s a high school dimwit.

The supporting cast is fairly strong here. Bianca’s love interest, Toby (Nick Eversman), does a nice job of appearing to be cute, decent, and charming until he reveals his true colors in a pivotal scene that sends Bianca running into Wesley’s arms. Bianca’s two sidekicks, Jess and Casey, are necessary for the plot but didn’t make much an impression on me. Ken Jeong deserves props for playing Mr. Arthur, a fun teacher who not only tolerates his students’ immaturity but matches it with his own brand of immaturity.

The Duff is a fun and thoughtful teenage romantic comedy that harkens back to the days of Pretty in Pink, The Breakfast Club, and Sixteen Candles. I wasn’t bored and I was pleasantly entertained. However, there were no surprises, either. I give The Duff just 3 out of 5 Reels.

Mae Whitman plays her role perfectly – not too smart alecky and not too cute. We like young Bianca and and appreciate her for herself. Her transformation at the end does not give in to the Hollywood ideals of beauty. “Bee” is true to herself and still evolves into a strong female character. I give Bianca 4 out of 5 Heroes.

Bianca’s allies consisted of the hunky boy next door Wesley, the beautiful BFFs Jess and Casey, a nearly absent mother, and a mentor teacher. Her object of desire is the hipster Toby and her villain was Miranda – the queen bee (or bee-otch). Miranda is supported by a number of interchangeable minions. It was a pretty bland supporting cast which I award just 3 out of 5.

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I enjoyed The Duff for what it is: a movie for teens, about teens, and starring actors in their mid-20s who play teens. The movie is more than just a romantic comedy; it is also a commentary about the frightening dominance of social media in our lives. In one scene, after the entire student-body is forced to turn in their cell phones, a student snaps at Bianca, “I just thought of something funny and now no one will know about it.” What does this tell us about our dependency on the superficial? The Duff charmed me and I’m happy to award it 3 Reels out of 5.

The hero story is a typical romance story in that two people who hate each other are thrown into a situation in which their hatred is replaced by love. We’ve seen this formula countless times and it is reprised nicely here in this film. The two heroes are transformed in different ways and receive help from each other and from other friends, companions, and allies, including teachers. It’s a fine hero story but not a great one. I give these two romantic heroes 3 Heroes out of 5.

Greg, I agree with your assessment of the supporting cast. All the necessary pieces are there and while none of them stand out (with the possible exception of Mr. Arthur), they all fulfill their roles in advancing the plot. It’s interesting that Bianca’s mother is so utterly worthless as a mentor figure in this film. Are parents that useless to today’s youth? I hope not. Overall, the cast did it’s job but there’s nothing extraordinary here. I give them a rating of 3 out of 5.

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