The Duff Exceeds Low Expectations

According to an Urban Dictionary post from 2003,
the term DUFF is an acronym for “Designated Ugly Fat Friend,” with the only other definition listed being the beer Homer drinks on The Simpsons.
Despite the post, I was unaware of the lovely term until The Duff hit
theaters in February.

Like the other teen dramedies (dramatic
comedies) released in the past decade, The Duff seemed set on becoming the next Mean Girls. With a touchy subject that somehow managed to appear even crueler than the typical plot line of the cool versus the uncool, the film looked like it would follow in the footsteps of its predecessors and fall offensively short of Mean Girls‘ mammoth success.

But I have to admit, the film did not fall nearly as far from the
mark as I had anticipated. After an hour and a half of watching it flip-flop between
the recycled and the original, the funny and the cringe-worthy, I’d describe The Duff as a pleasantly-surprising near-miss. Sure, it’s no teen classic,
but in comparison to the rest of the admittedly dismal genre, it stands pretty near the top of the
class.

I would chalk this surprising result up to the impressive amount of effort producers and screenwriters put into creating two humorous main characters with shockingly distinctive
personalities. The film’s storyline was predictable and generic, but watching it unfold through through the
eyes of Bianca and Wesley kicked it up a notch or two. And though the constant references to various social media platforms were old before they even began, I had a couple of genuine laughs.

Starring Mae Whitman (best known for her role on the hit NBC show Parenthood) as Bianca, The Duff opens from the view of the quintessential nerdy, edgy girl, surrounded by a flock of eye-roll-inducing cookie-cutter clones. Bianca is our key into the world of high school, made relatable by her constant struggle to remain an individual in the face of constant critique and insecurity. She works at the school newspaper, wears pajama pants to school and feels invisible next to her more popular friends. Is it just me, or can we all relate? 

Prepare yourself for an onslaught of moral guidance: Bianca begins the movie preaching about high school labels. Maybe ignorance is bliss, but Bianca claims that current students are not defined by their popularity or athleticism,
arguing that our generation has moved beyond such immaturity. So it
is hypocritical, but not wholly unexpected, when The
Duff
’s multitude of side characters are so clearly one-dimensional labels.

We are then introduced to Bianca’s two best friends: a peace-loving blonde and a tough-talking brunette. The movie’s unoriginal slew of supporting characters continues from there. 

There’s the gorgeous yet ruthless mean girl, obviously followed by the long-haired, guitar-playing love interest, and of course no teen movie is complete without the eccentric, well-meaning teacher. We have all seen these characters before, and could probably guess the lines coming out of their stereotyped mouths before they open them.

With that being said, the movie would have been a complete dud without the
spunky Bianca and her picture-perfect next-door neighbor
Wesley (Robbie Amell), the captain of the football team. Somewhere along in their surprisingly witty banter,
Wesley shatters Bianca’s illusions of label freedom by telling her that she is
the DUFF of her friend group. This doesn’t mean that she is necessarily fat or
ugly, he explains, merely that she is the less intimidating, more approachable
girl used for information about her prettier friends.

Bianca is understandably horrified. Turning to the popular
Wesley for de-DUFFing, the film settles in for a heart-felt but obvious
makeover. And with all of the flat, side characters out of the picture, the
pace is quick and entertaining.

But despite minor reveals here and there, it is pretty clear
where the film is headed. The moral and message is reiterated again and again
into our heads as yet another film attempts to end bullying, cyber bullying and
social constructs, keeping a smile on our faces all the while. Again, it fails to do so.

Culminating with the idea that we are all DUFFs to someone, that
we will never be the funniest or most intelligent person in the world, The Duff leaves us with a forced
feeling of camaraderie. Content with their sermons, the creators of the film ignore the fact that they have released a new
and incredibly harmful term into the world, the implications of which are impossible to ignore.

Though the film constantly insists that “DUFF” is merely a term, not necessarily used to describe someone’s weight or physical beauty, I doubt that everyone will see it this way. And while Bianca eventually finds peace with herself through the support of her mom and long-term friends, being designated as the least attractive or intelligent of a group of people would realistically be extremely emotionally damaging. 

Yes, the term did exist on Urban Dictionary before the film’s inception, but the popularization of such a cruel and devastating idea in high schools is concerning.

Regardless, The Duff is the
film that you expect it to be with the added benefit of some genuine
humor. If you don’t like makeovers (physical and emotional) or endings with
prom queens and a feel-good soundtrack, don’t watch this movie. It’s not Mean Girls or Clueless, but Whitman’s endearing performance adds an extra spark. I won’t buy the film on DVD, but I’m glad I saw it once. 

Here’s to hoping the abbreviation never takes off.

But don’t
believe me, just watch!

Sawyer Henshaw SC ’17 is an English Major from Hawaii. Believe it or not, the film columnist wasn’t allowed to watch R-rated movies until she was 17 years old.

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