Friday, February 20, 2015

The DUFF [2015]

MPAA (PG-13)  CNS/USCCB (A-III)  ChicagoTribune (2 Stars) (3 Stars)  AVClub (B-)  Fr. Dennis (3 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. McAleer) review
ChicagoTribune (M. Phillips) review (C. Lemire) review
AVClub (K. Rife) review

The DUFF [2015] (directed by Ari Sangel, screenplay by Josh A. Cagan, based on the teenage novel [GW] [WCat] [Amzn] by Kody Keplinger [GW] [Amzn] [IMDb]) is a teen-oriented film that begins bravely with the film's heroine Bianca (played wonderfully throughout by Mae Whitman) paying homage to the archetypes of John Hughes [wikip] [IMDb] classic The Breakfast Club [1985] only noting that "times have changed: Jocks now play video games, Princesses take anti-depressants and Geeks have pretty much come to rule the world." 

So what does the film do?  It introduces us to a new label / archetype: the DUFF - the Designated Ugly / Fat Friend, whose role in a group is to (1) make the others in the group feel more attractive and (2) be "the approachable one" by others outside the group seeking to "make contact" with those more attractive members of the group.

Yes, this is a rather cynical / hurtful label but then teenage life is often filled with interpersonal pain and the label / archetype kinda fits at times.  After all, people kinda attracted to someone often go through friends of that someone to feel things out "Does he/she kinda like me too?  What does he/she like to do?  Do I have a chance?" and so forth ...

Anyway, our poor "every girl" heroine is informed by a not particularly bright but very good looking neighbor-friend Wesley (played again wonderfully by Robbie Amell) that she's basically been "the DUFF" for her two perhaps somewhat more attractive friends Cassie (played Bianca A. Santos) and Jess (played by Skylar Samuels).  He doesn't mean to hurt Bianca with this matter-of-fact news, he just thinks he's making a statement of fact -- "that's how life is" -- but it proves to be crushing to her.  After all (1) Cassie, Jess and her have been BFFs forever ;-), and (2) yes Cassie and Jess were _somewhat_ prettier than she was.  Until then, she didn't make anything of it.  SUDDENLY "everything made sense" ... OH DEAR ...

So ... out of the blue, Bianca dumps her two best friends and THEY honestly DON'T UNDERSTAND WHY.  But that's what she wants.  So eyes mutually rolling in anger and confusion, Bianca and her two BEST FRIENDS proceed to "unfriend," "unfollow," "block" and otherwise "delete" each other from SOMETHING LIKE A DOZEN social networking platforms -- Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, etc -- proving perhaps that in our socially interconnected world, "Breaking-up is now REALLY HARD to do." ;-)

What now?   It's really hard to "not be a DUFF" (to not be _perhaps_ "used" by someone in some way).  And it's pretty lonely.

Anyway, Bianca enlists her attractive (but again not altogether bright) neighbor friend Wesley to help her to be less "DUFF material."  But even as he tries to make her, well, more "independently hot" ... in a world where EVERY TEENAGER has a smart phone, one of the school's "Mean Girls" (another teenage archetype from another movie...) catches her doing something really embarrassing.  Bianca's "social transgression" was nothing offensive, but yes, NOT SOMETHING SHE'D WANT "POSTED OUT THERE" ... So once that "Mean Girl" puts the captured video of her rather stupid (if totally innocent) action on the internet, she finds herself humiliated before almost everyone that she's ever known.  OH to be "merely a DUFF" again ...

Much then still proceeds, and since this is a Hollywood movie intended to be a comedy (mild SPOILER ALERT) it "all turns out well."

Among the more positive things that happen in the film is that Bianca does reconcile again with her two BFFs, who never really understood why she was dumping them as friends to begin with.  Okay, sure they may have been _slightly_ more "attractive" than she was, but THEY sincerely couldn't imagine life without her being part of their group as well.  How could they possibly continue to be "the three musketeers" with only two? ;-)  WHAT A GREAT MESSAGE ABOUT FRIENDSHIP!

Anyway, today's teens will probably love this movie.  And certainly the "cyber bullying" incident described above is sobering (I myself would HATE to be a teenager going through that today...).

Overall, while I do wonder if this film will age as well as The Breakfast Club [1985] did, I do believe that it is a reasonably worthy successor film of its kind.  So teens (and perhaps even your parents) enjoy ;-)

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