Two movies open this weekend that are derivative of every movie in their genres. McFarland USA is the typical sports movie.
The Duff is that teen comedy you’ve seen many times before. It borrows a lot from Mean Girls, Easy A, The Breakfast Club, 16 Candles, and the most underrated of the John Hughes films – Some Kind of Wonderful. Yet this is surprisingly entertaining and endearing. That’s because the script isn’t half bad, and the young ensemble cast is excellent. Watching them riff with actors we always laugh at in comedies (Ken Jeong, Alison Janney, and Romany Malco), works nicely.
Mae Whitman (TV’s Parenthood and State of Grace) is humorous as she narrates and stars as the sassy best friend to two of the prettiest girls in school (Bianca Santos, Skyler Samuels). Her neighbor Wesley (Robbie Amell) is the good looking athlete at school (he reminded me of a taller Tom Cruise). The fun fact with these two leads – they’re both 26-years-old, playing high school students.
One of the popular students is having a party that Whitman isn’t invited to, but she ends up going anyway. That’s where Wesley tells her she’s a “Duff” (Designated Ugly Fat Friend). It’s one of the few things in the movie that made me cringe, since the target audience is teenage girls. Whitman is hardly fat, although she’s not as slim as the more popular girls. That stands out a bit more because of her posture she and the masculine way she dresses (at one point Wesley tells her she dresses like Wreck-It Ralph).
The other thing that bothered me a bit was the crude language. It wasn’t off-putting for me to hear the two guys start the movie at the lockers talking about how much they’d like to “bang” certain girls that walked by. It does gives this a PG-13 rating, which means some parents won’t feel comfortable with their teens watching it. And with such a positive message, that’s a shame.
Whitman doesn’t like the “Duff” designation, and stops hanging around her beautiful besties. She’s saddled with writing a story about the homecoming dance for the school paper, and she didn’t have plans to go (she’d rather watch a Vincent Price film marathon).
Ken Jeong is that caring teacher that also has enough zingers and sarcasm to entertain the audience.
Alison Janney, as the mother that seems a bit more concerned with her divorce and best-selling book on how to survive divorce, wasn’t utilized early on. Yet later in the film, she gets a few funny scenes (one involves her obsession with Hilary Clinton style pantsuits, another is a great impersonation from Spinal Tap).
Romany Malco plays the Tim Meadows character from Mean Girls, with the timely subject of online bullying. On the subject of Mean Girls and all the teen flicks this borrows from, it’s not nearly as good as those, but still works.
Whitman ends up making a deal with Wesley. She’ll help him pass science, if he gives her tips on dating and looking prettier. Sure, it’s a bit unbelievable. She doesn’t think highly of him and she’s sharp. She’d be smart enough to know that she could ditch the flannel shirts and wear make-up, but then we wouldn’t have a movie.
Surprisingly, the characters aren’t one-dimensional (aside from one ice queen).
There were many unrealistic elements to the film, but you have fun watching it and nobody will care. The characters have chemistry and the jokes hit their marks.
It was nice to hear some Peaches and Tegan & Sara, but as much as I love Joan Jett’s “Bad Reputation,” movies have to take a break from using this tune for awhile.
Going into the film, the word “Duff” made me think of the beer brand in The Simpsons. That show was shown as the inspiration for the five stages Janney’s character uses for her book.
A week from now I won’t remember what “Duff” stood for, or remember much about this movie. Yet it was a good time at the theatre and teens are going to love it.
It gets 3 stars out of 5.