Dang teenagers and their technology.
High school teenager Bianca Piper (Mae Whitman) is smart, quick-witted, is sure of herself, and also has a bunch of friends that love and support her. However, she soon realizes that maybe her social life isn’t all that great to begin with; sure, she has friends, but is she really as successful or as popular as them? Better yet, is she really all that pretty, either? Eventually, Bianca stumbles upon the realization that she is, sadly, a DUFF (Designated Ugly Fat Friend). This shakes Bianca to her core, so much so that she realizes it’s about time that she realizes it’s finally time for a change of pace where she can have more men look her way, more people talk about her with positive connotations, and more friends, as a result. This is when she enlists the help of her neighbor Wes (Robbie Amell) who is also using her as a way to ensure that he gets good enough grades in class so that he can pass, get those scholarships to the colleges he wants, and live his life, happily forever after. But somehow, through all of the hanging out they’re doing, Wes and Bianca soon realize that maybe what it is that they need, isn’t just to look pretty and be popular – maybe, just maybe, it’s to have someone special in your life?
Basically, take the premise to Not Another Teen Movie, make it serious, and wouldn’t you know it? You sort of have what the Duff is; while it is, at one point, insightful in exposing the true nature of young, impressionable, high school kids and their sometimes evil, maniacal ways of pushing people into stereotypes, regardless of whether they accept it or not. Then, on the other point, it’s also a movie that feels incredibly content with keeping things as simple and conventional as possible, without ever trying to change, or shake up the genre it seems to be playing around in.
To be honest, the Duff is a little bit of both, but it’s at least ten times better than a mega-serious Not Another Teen Movie.
What works in the Duff‘s favor is that it has a fresh voice to tell us all that we need to know about the current state of high school’s social life today, to ensure that everybody’s on the same page. While it’s only been a few years or so since I last stepped in a high school classroom, there’s still a certain feeling that even though most may stay the same about high school and all of the social politics that go into, the landscape may alter a bit to where there are more cliques than ever before. Through Bianca, we see, hear, and understand what it is that’s around her and it helps us to create a bubble around each one of these character’s lives and how they’ll affect her.
And this also helps out the fact that Bianca, the character herself, is actually pretty smart and funny. Some of that has to do with the fact that Mae Whitman (yes, her?) is charming in her own ways, but some of it also has to do with the fact that she’s actually an interesting character that feels lived-in and not just an archetype of what some writer’s would deem as “hip” or “cool”. Sure, she’s both of which, but she isn’t bragging about it, either; that’s just not her style. She’s much more subdued than that and it helps her character come off as more realistic than anything else.
Not to mention that, despite seeming like he’s way too old for high school, Robbie Amell and Whitman have something of a sexy bit of chemistry together. Though the pairing is, I must admit, odd to say the least, these two make it work somehow by showing that these two need one another. Sure, the ways we are shown this are hackneyed, corny and wildly predictable, at best, but there’s still some shed of truth to be found in these scenes.
Not too much, but just enough to keep me away from barfing out my lunch by all of the sappy teen romance.
Like I said, however, the Duff does feel like it gets a tad too predictable for its own tastes and while it can sometimes get away with its sarcastic smirk, it doesn’t always save the day. For instance, take the character of Bella Thorne, who plays the stereotypical bitch of the school who’s only concern is whom her boyfriend is of the week, whether or not she’s having a party later in the day, and if there are enough cameras around her following her every move. Despite Thorne trying here, it still seems like the kind of lame role that’s written for a sitcom; whereas instead of getting to see the deep shades beneath her exterior, we just see an annoying, villain of a girl. It’s quite bothersome actually and doesn’t do much to help the movie, except just ad needless conflict.
Then, of course, there’s the message of this movie, whatever it is that may be. See, a part of me wants to give the movie the benefit of the doubt and say that, in the end, the movie’s all about the triumph and the will of one woman’s journey to make herself feel better for who it is that she is, rather than what others see, there’s still another part of me that thinks the opposite. See, without saying much, Bianca changes herself up in a manner that makes her seem more appealing to those around and even though Whitman is already plenty fine to look at, the movie tries to make it seem like she needs to look and fit a certain way to get the guy, to get the friends, and ultimately, get the life they oh so crave and desire.
To me, that doesn’t sit well. Doesn’t matter if you’re talking to young high schoolers or senior citizens, it just feels oddly-placed is all, especially in a movie that seems so against selling out and being along with the crowd in the first place.
Then again, that’s high school for ya.
Consensus: The Duff‘s familiar premise and feel waters it down from being like other high school comedies released in the past few years, but still offers up enough charm and wit to make up for some of those problems.
5.5 / 10