Movie Review: The Duff (2015)

Synopsis: High school senior Bianca Piper learns she is the DUFF (Designated Ugly Fat Friend) of her social group and, determined to both shake the label and gain the confidence to ask her crush out on a date, she convinces her popular neighbor, Wesley Rush, to assist her in exchange for helping him pass science. However, thanks to a school bully, their efforts wind up making her even less popular.

Who's in it? The movie stars Mae Whitman, Robbie Amell, Bella Thorne, Skyler Samuels, Bianca A. Santos, Allison Janney and Ken Jeong.

Review: I ended up getting this movie on DVD through Netflix after my wife saw a trailer for it and said she wanted to watch it. We ended up finally seeing the film earlier tonight.

I am always a bit skeptical when it comes to romantic comedies. This is because many of them tend to be extremely hypocritical by sharing a message about the importance of women being happy with who they are but, at the same time, telling them their life isn't going to be complete unless they get a makeover and land a man. And, in all honesty, this movie sort of falls into that category as well. However, I still found I enjoyed watching it.

There were a couple things that really stood out for me when watching this film. One of the big ones was the way it portrayed the impact of cyber bullying. Being a comedy, it was probably a little tamer on the subject than some other films might have been but the impact of a viral video of Bianca (Whitman) making a fool of herself seemed very real (especially when her classmates also blamed her when the school banned cell phones as a result). The thing that made the bullying extra ugly was the fact it had been, up until the point it was corrupted, a relatively happy and fun moment for her.

I also liked how the movie chose to portray the adults (or at least some of them). A lot of times, teen comedies like this tend to have the adults seem a little too buffoonish. This film offered a reasonable balance and, while the adults still did a few things that fell into the buffoon category, they also managed to provide some helpful advice.

This is especially true of Bianca's mom (Janney). There were some things that were played for comedic effect but I could genuinely feel what she had to be going through, trying to start over after a divorce while raising a teenager and, like many parents, not really knowing the right thing to say. In fact, I feel her mom was a character that set this film apart a bit.

After some reflection, I also have to admit Wesley's (Amell) advice to her wasn't quite what I was expecting. I figured he would focus primarily on her outer appearance but, while there was some discussion about her clothes (especially her underwear), he did seem to spend most of his time helping her work on her confidence and social skills. That was different than many other movies in this genre.

I think my only real complaint about this movie was the ending. This goes back to what I said before regarding movies focusing on the girl ending up with her dream guy. I feel like, in doing that, the movie dropped the ball a bit because the better story was Bianca's relationship with her "prettier" friends (Samuels and Santos). I don't want to give away too many spoilers but the ending started out as three friends bonding and attending homecoming together (with two of them even giving up their dates) and ended with one friend essentially abandoning them and giving them zero acknowledgement in the wrap-up. That was disappointing on multiple levels.

Final Opinion: The movie does fall back on a few too many rom-com standards, however there are some funny moments in it and a few emotional scenes that do stand out. It's not a film that is going to have me stocking up on other romantic comedies but I did enjoy watching it.

My Grade: B


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