“For generations of high schoolers, you could only be a jock, a geek, a princess, a bully or a basket case. But times have changed. Jocks play video games. Princesses are on antidepressants. And geeks basically run the country. I thought we were living in a brave new world, a place without labels. But every so often, there’s that one moment in high school that changes your perspective on everything.” Just when you thought high school couldn’t get any more like some sort of vicious social media-fueled gauntlet designed to humiliate and cause untold grief to nearly everyone, a new label pops up. Introducing ‘The DUFF’, or Designated Ugly Fat Friend. You might have hoped teenagers couldn’t get any meaner, but now they’re smearing horrible labels not just on their enemies, but their friends. According to the Principal (Romany Malco), “It’s like a prison yard out there!” Mae Whitman stars as Bianca, a whip smart, sardonic and saucy member of a trio of friends. But her whole world is ripped apart when a childhood frenemy, Wesley (Robbie Ammell) offhandedly tells her she’s a Duff. When the scales fall from her eyes, she realizes he’s right and takes immediate action by committing the ultimate act of severing ties in the digital age – she *gasp* unfriends and blocks Casey and Jess on pretty much every social media platform you can think of.
Now all alone, she seeks help from Wesley. They grew up together and although their relationship is slightly antagonistic, underneath it all they really are friends with close bonds built up over many years. Bianca asks Wesley for help to ‘un-duff’ her and coach her how to get her dream guy, Toby (Nick Eversman). In exchange, she’ll help him pass a science class so he won’t lose his scholarship. Thus begins a My Fair Lady-esque adventure that is extremely well written and thoughtful. The writing is exquisite, witticisms racing past and exquisite badinage done with such easy nonchalance that it was a very great pleasure to watch. This is not your ordinary teen drivel – like Bianca herself, it is shrewd, masterfully adroit, shrouding rather profound things under the guise of bright and effortless banter that shows an extraordinary command of the English language. The eloquence, fluency in idiom and lingo, and exquisite phrasing was like catnip to my English Major soul. Superlative performances from some very talented actors and even if the language occasionally sinks into profanity, it all seemed organic and necessary. It’s wonderful to see Bianca take charge of the situation and be proactive in doing something about it, influenced by her mother (Allison Janney) who has built an empire helping women get through difficult situations, inspired by her own ugly divorce. Despite the horrific digital barrages and bombardment by Wesley’s pseudo girlfriend Madison (Bella Thorne), Bianca presses on, essentially making the movie a master class in self esteem, true friendship and how to survive high school.
This is no ordinary hokey teen drama about the perils and pitfalls of high school. It has a positive message and is chock full of fabulous dialogue to boot. It makes important observations about having confidence in yourself, cyber bullying and what it means to come of age in the digital age. It weaves crushing despair, horrifying meanness and effervescent joy into a spellbinding tale with an important message for today’s youth. I see myself in many of these characters, making the whole story resonate with my own experiences. It also makes it clear that while you can improve yourself, it’s important to still be you. You needn’t be a clone of what you think is the ideal, you just need to be the best version of yourself and never abandon the wonderful quirks, idiosyncrasies and even flaws that make you special. Really a marvelous and very satisfying movie and I think I’m going to need to watch it again before I sent it back. Teen fluff this is not and stay turned during the credits for some very funny outtakes. There’s some deep philosophy at play as well as some enlightening observations about life. “In the end, it isn’t about popularity or even getting the guy. It’s about understanding that no matter what label is thrown your way, only you can define yourself.” – BETHANY
For more information on this surprisingly sophisticated movie, visit the Internet Movie Database
Ken Jeong delivers a hilarious performance as a slightly bonkers Mr. Arthur, a neurotic teacher who unerringly skewers the entire proceedings with his over-the-top antics.
All so Bianca can get this guy (Nick Eversman). Toby plays the guitar and everything! ” Look, I have a crush on this boy. His name is Toby Tucker. Maybe you’ve heard of him. Well, I can’t seem to talk to him without making a total ass of myself, okay? And you never seem to have this problem.”
Photos courtesy of CBS Films, Vast Entertainment, Wonderland Sound and Vision and Lionsgate (unless otherwise credited in clickable form)