The way adults remember high school is very curious. The Duff is just another example in a long line of films where the cast is significantly older than the characters they are portraying. Both leads Mae Whitman and Robbie Amell (the Tom Cruise look alike) are 27 year olds playing 17 year old seniors; while some fantastic teenage actors out there are asking why. Based on some forgettable book reinforcing the notion that all a young girl needs is a man, The Duff is nothing more than a revival of 1999’s She’s All That which thrust now defunct stars Freddie Prinze Jr. and Rachel Leigh Cook into stardom. Not even history repeats itself as often as Hollywood. Thankfully between chasing boys, teenage pop culture references and the predictable conclusion there is an inspiring message of individual acceptance in there somewhere.
When the popular, ripped, football jock (also next door neighbor) Wesley (Amell) explains to Bianca how she is a “Duff” (Designated Ugly Fat Friend) to her popular, better looking friends, her world changes. Crippled at the thought of society using the weak in small groups to further benefit the popular, Bianca enlists Wesley’s honesty to help her rid the duff label, ditching her closest friends, and reinventing herself to woo the long haired guitar player she is always afraid to talk with. Wesley helps her build more than confidence, and they both begin falling for each other in the process.
The problem with ALL these films set in high school is they have no real concept of what actual high school looks or feels like. There are never these types of exciting characters that are always written as one sided. In this Hollywood fantasy world the jock can only be a jock, the intimidating popular girl is of course the villain. What select humorous moments the film has (mostly involving the adults), they are drowned out by the unrealistic reality these characters are placed in. Will teens watching it care? Probably not, but the message won’t be received if it feels like they are watching a science fiction film.
Allison Janney is one of the best comedians out there. Her involvement in even the poorest of comedies can bring it up a notch. Even in bit parts (Bad Words, Away We Go), in a limited amount of screen time she is often unforgettable. Ken Jeong of The Hangover trilogy plays it a bit more serious as the journalism teacher here and has never been more funny. When you know and understand the formula so well it’s hard to enjoy what you are being served. Bianca and Wesley are fairly one sided and the supporting characters even less than.
Final Thought – Fails to understand or speak to an authentic high school experience.
By: Dustin Chase