‘The DUFF’ bullies audiences

By Jacob Pierce| @JacobPierce1_DE| Daily Egyptian

High school movies are a staple in the film industry. Aside from a few releases in the 1970s, the renaissances for these flicks came in the 1980s. The list goes on with classics like The John Hughes collection, “Heathers” and “Risky Business.”

The 1990s had brief success with this genre, but once the new millennium came around, the quality of these movies decreased. “Easy A” and “Mean Girls” are exceptions to a rule that includes, “John Tucker Must Die,” “She’s the Man” and “I Love You Beth Cooper.”

“The DUFF” (Rated PG-13; 101 min) is a teen comedy directed by Ari Sandel, and is another in the line of embarrassing high school movies.  

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Bianca Piper, played by Mae Whitman, is a high school senior close to graduating. Her two best friends, who she has known since she was young, are part of the popular crowd, while she is a barely-noticed geek. Her entire world is thrown upside down when a childhood friend, played by Robbie Amell, tells her she is a “DUFF”, or a “Designated Ugly Fat Friend.”

Piper does not take this lightly and decides to do something about it. She enlists the help of her childhood friend to assist her in becoming the most beautiful version of herself. Soon, the two start to fall in love and Piper’s life becomes more complicated than it ever has been.

This movie looked awful, which may seem brutally honest, but the makers of “The DUFF” might need some tough love. It looked like a poorly made rip off the already terrible “She’s All That.” A boy takes time to beautify an “ugly” girl because of a contrived plot device and the boy ends up falling for the girl in the end. It is sickeningly generic and has been parodied to death at this point.  

I do not pretend to have a direct to teens today, but I have never even heard of a DUFF. It seems like the filmmakers made up this Urban Dictionary word, while they should have been working on a better script for the movie.

“The DUFF” is not a complete misfire. I compared it to the 1990s hit “She’s All That” and I can firmly say this movie is better. There are several themes and plot points with potential. Bullying, self-confidence, divorce and domestic struggles are all brought up—sometimes decently—but are abandoned.

One of the wasted plot points is the concept of troubled home lives. This is a huge character developing opportunity which seems to be thrown away without regard. Both Piper and Wesley Rush, her childhood friend, come from broken homes. Piper’s is one of divorce and Rush’s is on the verge of it. Her home life is thrown away as a joke and his is brought up once and promptly forgotten.

This unearths an even deeper seated problem. These characters are not characters, not in the true sense of the word. They are depthless embodiments feigning original motivations. Nothing more than puppets used to spout “witty” dialogue the screenwriter and director had to have.

Rush is the hilarious jock stereotype, who has more going on inside than he is showing. Piper is the unique girl, who can shed her shield of idiosyncratic qualities and become “beautiful.”

The saddest aspect of both is they are so close to exceeding the archetype, but fall short. Rush almost has a true broken background and interesting quality to him and Piper’s eccentric qualities are almost revered instead of changed.

To make good teen fiction, regardless of medium, one has to understand teenagers. No one expects an artist to fully understand the complex and mostly scary brain of a high schooler. Yet, a simple understanding of their culture is needed to make a genuine story.

Sandel and Josh A. Cagan, the screenwriter, do not seem to have an understanding of teens today at all. They get buzzwords. Youtube, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter are thrown out as to say, “Hey, you guys use this right? Isn’t that funny, you guys?” No concept of living in this digital age is given a thought beyond being a shallow joke.

The movie is not a complete waste of time. Whitman and Amell have a unique chemistry unseen in most bad movies.  The film has a lot decent jokes thrown among the terrible gags about Facebook and Snapchat. Overall though, “The DUFF” will make you groan more than it will make you laugh. Go watch “Easy A,” “Mean Girls” or even “Sixteen Candles” for the fifteenth time instead.

Stars: 2 out of 5.    

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