The Duff Parent Review
I had a brief moment of hope that "The DUFF" might have something positive to say about navigating the tough halls of high school. Note - I said brief.
I had a brief moment of hope for The DUFF. Hope that this teen movie might have something positive to say about navigating the tough halls of high school.
Note—I said brief. Even before the title of the film flashed across the screen, three teen boys had shared with us their sexual fantasies involving two of their high school peers.
If we are to believe The DUFF, sex is the only thing high school students think about—ever. The characters in this film can’t even have a lunchroom chat without the dialogue degenerating into a conversation full of crude references to sexual activity, anatomical appendages and crass name-calling. Even the teachers (Ken Jeong, Chris Wylde) go around rating the female students on their sex appeal and exchange a man-on-man kiss while chaperoning prom.
Not surprisingly, these hallways are also packed with the stereotypical labels Hollywood seems determined to keep promoting. Madison (Bella Thorne) is the nasty queen bee made famous in movies like Mean Girls. Wesley (Robbie Amell) is the handsome football jock that shows up in every high school movie with a sports team. And Toby (Nick Eversman) is the artsy musician who flips his long locks with practiced panache. But now there’s a new label circulating in the school—the DUFF. Bianca (Mae Whitman) doesn’t realize she is the “Designated Ugly Fat Friend” of Jess (Skyler Samuels) and Casey (Bianca A. Santos). And neither of them see her that way either. But as soon as Wesley points out to Bianca that she is less attractive than her two gal pals, she dumps her friends and jumps feet first into a DUFF pity party. (Anyone watching the film can see Bianca’s churlish attitude and glowering face are more of a turnoff than her physical looks.)
Determined to ditch her new designation, she turns to Wesley for coaching. In exchange for helping him pass Chemistry, she gets lessons on how to turn herself into the hottest thing on campus. However that transformation doesn’t happen before she becomes the victim of vicious cyber bulling in the form of a highly edited video that goes viral among her peers.
As I said, this movie has moments, like when Bianca overhears Wesley’s family in a heated argument. Yes, everyone, even the popular high school football quarterback, has problems. Or when the gorgeous Casey admits to having insecurities. Or when Bianca’s totally preoccupied mother surfaces from her own problems long enough to give her daughter some timely dating advice—something about “believe, achieve, don’t conceive”. (Okay that wasn’t one of the movie’s better points, but for an instant her mom did try to act like an adult.) Still, it is definitely a positive portrayal when Bianca’s friends prove they are as beautiful on the inside as the outside and welcome her back without question, even after she acted like an idiot.
The truth is probably everyone feels like a DUFF at some point in life. Recognizing that we all have self-doubts, worries and vulnerabilities is a good thing that hopefully makes us more tolerant and accepting of others. Yet that message, as good as it is, is poor recompense for slogging through the crass depictions of simulated sex and crude dialogue with a protagonist that loves to wallow in a swamp of self-loathing.
Bianca isn’t a designated ugly fat friend so much as she is a MESS - Miserable Excessively Self-absorbed (high school) Senior.Directed by Ari Sandel. Starring Bella Thorne, Mae Whitman, Robbie Amell. Running time: 101 minutes. Updated May 18, 2016
Get details on profanity, sex and violence in The Duff here.
The Duff Parents Guide
How does Bianca’s mother fail in her role as a parent? How does she let her own problems keep her from being there for her daughter? Should we have more sympathy for this woman than the script suggests?
How does Bianca’s self-absorption keep her from reaching out to others? Do all the comments she receives on her newspaper article indicate that many other students also struggle with self-esteem? How are Jess and Casey positive role models of real friendship?
Many of the actors in this movie aren’t even in their teens. What is the average age of an actor who plays a high school student? Chris Han at College Humor has done some research. Would the film be more believable if the characters actually looked like high school students? Why do you think filmmakers opt for older actors rather than casting ones that are age appropriate?
Bianca believes she is a DUFF in part because no one calls her by her name at school. Why is it important for most people to be called by their name? How does it make you feel when someone remembers your name? What about when they don’t remember?