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The DUFF (2015)
Blu-ray Disc Released: 6/9/2015
All Ratings out of
Review by Sydny Long, Posted on 6/2/2015
The world still doesn't quite understand teenagers. While we scarcely have a firm grasp on our own identities, society as a whole has developed a warped perception of how a teenager behaves that makes us feel even more removed from ourselves. Movies and television are especially guilty of this. Churning out programs like Pretty Little Liars, where every high school girl is meticulously-groomed and generously-proportioned, only perpetuates the idea that teenagers must fit into a certain channel to be considered likeable and pretty, and mangles the high school world into a soapy, nightmarish alternate universe. While movies tend to be a little more grounded in reality, we still get overly-polished products that give the viewer the feeling no one under the age of thirty was involved in its creation. That's why our generation has clung to films like Mean Girls and The Breakfast Club, which presented its target demographic with the gritty reality of being a teenager: it sucks, high school sucks, the people you meet sometimes suck, but it gets better. Can The Duff change this trend with its body-positive message?
The film opens with high school senior Bianca Piper (Mae Whitman) navigating her high school for her final year. She spends most of her time writing for the school paper, watching cult zombie films, and hanging out with her conventionally attractive, popular friends: hippie Jess (Skyler Samuels) and fiery Casey (Bianca Santos). When the girls attend a party thrown by the school's queen bee Madison (Bella Thorne), Bianca's attempts to talk to her crush, Toby (Nick Eversman), are thwarted by her childhood friend and neighbor Wes (Robbie Amell). Wes explains to Bianca that she is the DUFF of her friends (Designated Ugly Fat Friend); Bianca is horrified, but then devises a plan with Wes: if she keeps him from failing, he'll make her over. However, when an embarrassing video of Bianca hits the school, she has to fight back to reestablish her standing and get the guy before homecoming. Of course, she'll need a little help from her mother (Allison Janney), her friends, and Wes to escape the acronym once and for all.
First of all, I'd like to say I'm a little disturbed by the use of the word DUFF in this movie. Even as a teenager who's accustomed to new language being thrown around, I had never heard of the acronym until I saw the trailer for this film. I don't appreciate its prominence in the film at all, considering Mae Whitman is far from fat and definitely not ugly (and besides, aren't we advanced enough as a society to stop measuring a woman's value by her appearance and how that appearance is received?) I'm afraid younger girls watching this movie will feel pressured to look a certain way in order to avoid the nickname and not be true to themselves, which is supposed to be the film's message under all the name-calling and stigma. (Are we supposed to believe Mae Whitman is the "fat girl"? And why does the film insist on making girls who aren't skinny out to be embarrassing and unpopular?)
Issues aside, The Duff is a fairly mediocre movie. It follows the linear path of any high school movie: girl likes guy, girl uses best friend to help get guy, girl falls for best friend instead. The film tries to use fun onscreen graphics when it comes to introducing its characters, but it comes off as paltry and gimmicky. I feel like this was a movie engineered to blandly appeal to teenagers by incorporating as much social media and teen lingo as possible (imagine a conference room full of prestigious CEO's discussing where to include "LOL" in the film). There's a mortifyingly painful scene where the protagonist unfriends her two best friends on every plausible form of social media. I guess the writers just made a list of everything they'd scene a teenager ever use and tried to make it work. The end result is cringe-worthy.
There are a few redeeming qualities, though. Though the high school the characters attend clearly forgot to instate a dress code, it manages to stay relatively realistic. I'm sure every girl watching could relate to the theme of feeling ignored and overshadowed by the accomplishments of your friends; the movie actually takes the liberty of pointing out there will always be someone smarter or prettier or more popular and that this does not make you any less special. While most of the dialogue verges on overwhelmingly "hip" (I've never heard a human being use the word "amaze balls" in my life), the script mines humor from appearances by the hilarious Ken Jeong and Chris Wylde, as well as from the always funny Allison Janney. Mae Whitman is as charismatic and likeable as ever, and so is Robbie Amell, who is sure to become the next teen idol with his chiseled pectorals and smarmy grin.
Is The Duff a classic? Not at all. Is it a cute teen movie that will probably inspire a proverbial ton of teenaged girls to leave the theaters in a mass exodus and raid their local Forever 21 for short overalls and flannel? Yes. Movies like The Duff fail to capture the heart and soul of being a teenager: they focus too much on beating dead trend horses in order to fill theater seats. It may be somewhat popular now, but I guarantee that in the next five years, girls will still be saying "stop trying to make 'fetch' happen!" and The Duff will just be another movie in the Netflix queue.
The DUFF should re-think the overalls on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Lionsgate. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 30 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing no discernible grain and no defects from the source materials. The colors look fantastic and the image is never overly dark or bright. The level of detail is very good and the depth is notable for a comedy. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 3.8 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The music offers deep subwoofer effects which shake the walls. The stereo effects are well-done and the crowd scenes provide nice surround sound effects.
The DUFF Blu-ray Disc contains an assortment of extras. "The DUFF Hits the Red Carpet" (4 minutes) offers footage from a screening of the film (the premiere?), where we see the cast walking the red carpet and offering brief comments. "Bringing the Book to Life" (2 minutes) offers an interview with author Kody Keplinger who talks about the inspiration for the book and her thoughts on the casting. "Teen Comedies and The DUFF" (2 minutes) has those involved in the film talking about how it falls into the pantheon of high school movies. "I Am The Duff" (3 minutes) is comprised mostly of clips from the movie in a brief piece which defines duff. "The Duff Files" (7 minutes) is a five-part series of short segments which examines the main characters. The final extra is a 3-minute EXTENDED GAG REEL.
Review Copyright 2015 by Mike Long