High school is rough. With age comes insight and perspective, so you can look back on your high school days and ask “Wow, were we . . . were things, really that dramatic when I was in high school?” Through the lens of The DUFF, it’s safe to say that though the lingo, clothes, and technology have changed, high school is still high school. You still have the popular kids, the jocks, bullying; it all just looks a little different, but it’s still there.
In case you haven’t visited Urban Dictionary lately, DUFF stands for ‘Designated Ugly Fat Friend’. However, the moniker doesn’t have to strictly adhere to the descriptors the acronym stands for. In broader terms it mainly refers to a situation where a less attractive and more approachable person (usually female, but can apply to either male or female) hangs out or is friends with two or more attractive people. Needless to say that when our main character Bianca is made aware of her situation, drama (of the high school nature) ensues.
I guess one question I initially had was how could a girl with popular friends not be comfortable with who she is? And an even potentially bigger question: does it really matter how you’re perceived? In high school, the answer is almost invariably YES. From the get-go Bianca our protagonist and is portrayed as very independent and very much her own person, but yet she lets the title of ‘The Duff’ to cause doubt in herself. With such a strong minded character, I didn’t get why she let it bother her. Was it just because of high school insecurity? I guess. We need something to move the story along right? Whatever the case may be, I’m always a sucker for high school movies and the struggles of the less popular class of students against the more popular kids at school.
This class struggle is deftly woven into the fabric of the film with the relationship between Bianca and Wesley. At first you might think that they’re the usual “childhood friends” where one grows up to be popular and the other not at all. Well, that’s sort of the case here, but The DUFF gives us some great setup for their friendship by showing us an old photo of Wes and Bianca taking a bath together as kids. You know the type of photo, those embarrassing ones of you that your parents took of you as a kid. It’s inserted into the film and paints us a more authentic history for them.
Being childhood friends, Bianca and Wesley are still pretty good friends in high school–though they both inhabit different social circles. Bianca is the independent, school newspaper editor with something to say who hangs out with two of the hottest girls at school. Wesley meanwhile seems like the stereotypical sex crazed jock–but with some sense of conscience and the right amount of doubt. You can tell he sort of wants to do the right thing (or at least thinks about it), but is held back by the high school social class system that demands the cool kids act like cool kids. Despite their baggage, Bianca and Wes’s friendship feels really developed and their chemistry is fun and playful.
A happy surprise is Ken Jeong who fits in surprisingly well in this film as the supportive teacher. He’s not playing the over the top character that we normally get (à la Mr Chow in the Hangover films) and is definitely dialed it back, but still serving up some pretty witty banter. Amazingly he is the inspirational teacher who thinks he’s cool, but in reality is not. Even though his character tries really hard to be cool, he doesn’t really succeed. It’s his attempt to be cool that really made me want to see more of him. When he delivers his lines you almost feel like you’re seeing a different side to Ken Jeong.
And that kind of leads into one of the great things about this movie: the dialogue. Some of the banter and one-liners are so sharp and so perfectly timed. I’d like to think people are this smart and quick in real life, but I don’t think that’s the case. However, almost every character in the film that has screen time has a quip that they get in or a hilarious comedic beat that they hit. Kudos to the screenwriters for giving us some very smart and very fun dialogue.
Focusing back on Bianca and her quest to un-DUFF herself, we do get the usual plot points that we’re all used to in these types of high school movies: friends stop being friends, our awkward protagonist going after the high school crush, our protagonist getting a makeover, and the always fun romantic comedy drama where one person realizes they have feelings for the other person–but at the wrong time. Though The DUFF has all of these tropes, it’s the way it tells them that kept me interested and laughing throughout the film.
Overall The Duff kind of surprised me. Going in I thought I was going to get some pretty standard high school faire just updated for 2015. Though the story was nothing we haven’t seen before, there was enough of a slant to the characters and situations to make them different enough to feel a little more real and original. And the comedy–definitely one of the highlights. As the The DUFF went on I found myself enjoying the film more and more. Good high school flicks get me every time.
The DUFF is now playing in theaters everywhere.
3.5/5 stars // rated PG-13 // 1hr 41min