The following contains spoilers for The DUFF. You have been warned.
Teen high school comedies have been around for ages, but every now and then you get one that rises a notch above its contemporaries. Easy A. Mean Girls. The Breakfast Club. Heck, the late, great John Hughes (director of The Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles, and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, among others) made a career out of them. Will The DUFF be the next to join that list? Tyler Lyon and I got together to try to figure that out.
Tyler: I know Tim gave the movie a good review, but my expectations for The DUFF were pretty low, with exception of some excitement seeing Mae Whitman in her first post-Parenthood project. Pretty early in the movie I had to remind myself that the film’s target audience probably hadn’t seen or even heard of movies like Can’t Buy Me Love or Some Kind of Wonderful, which is why these movies all tend to borrow from each other. I was pretty disappointed.
Rachel: Personally, when I saw the first sneak peeks for the film a few months back, I thought that the story looked ridiculous, and like you, I was questioning why Mae Whitman took this part. For this reason, I actually read the book – which was pretty decent – but the film was pretty much a bare skeleton of the book’s plot. At first it irked me, but as the film went on, it made me realize all of the elements that the movie actually got right. Oddly enough, the standard teen comedy tropes that were very present in the film (and were not so much in the book) actually made the story more accessible for the teen audience. Although for people who have seen teen comedies from the standards of the 80s until now might roll their eyes at many aspects (the mean girl, the dressing room scene, the homecoming dance, the dumb jock etc.), I don’t mind a new generation being inculcated into these traditions.
Tyler: You’re right, and I actually got over the fact that I knew how the movie was going to end at the “Big Dance,” pretty early on because I realized this was all new, or at least not tired, for the row of teenage girls sitting behind me in the theater. My biggest issue is that the vast majority of what the movie did in between the standard plot points didn’t work for me. I guess we can start with the movie’s commentary on social media. Did you take away anything from that other than “kids be on their phones?”
Tyler: One of the things I actually appreciated about the movie was the way it showed social media, particularly videos, as a way of cyberbullying. One of my biggest pet peeves with movies that use social media as a plot point is the way they haphazardly show the way things get passed around, or “go viral.” While having two characters on campus essentially decide to make something viral by literally saying the word was a little simplified, I was impressed by the way the film handled the idea.
One other thing I liked, since I’m being positive, was the way the movie broke away a bit from the typical display of the social class system. Maybe its just that I’m too far removed from that high school world, but I enjoyed, for instance, that there was only one real “mean girl” and that the labels Bianca refers to in the beginning don’t seem to be much of an issue, with exception to the Madison character. Did that stick out to you or was it just part or the movies reliance on those standard tropes?
Rachel: Funny that you mention this, because at the start of the film Bianca has her voiceover and she says something like “you know, there used to be all these stereotypes in high school,” which amusingly kind of broke the fourth wall there and poked fun at older teen films. I actually had a mental sigh of relief. The fact that the movie created its very own stereotype or label right after that, however, kind of erased the overall effect of that opening scene for me. That being said, I was pretty amused with the whole DUFF label, because I guess it is kind of valid when you think about it. As for the labeling in general, I thought the movie implemented it well, or at least didn’t harp on it too much. That is, like you said, except for Madison (who was not in the book, so the screenwriter must have felt a need for a “mean girl”). I didn’t really feel she brought all that much to the movie. Whenever she got in the way of Bianca and Wesley, it was very brief and artificial. Speaking of Wesley – who I did like as a character – I thought it was kind of lazy writing for them to make him a “dumb jock” who is failing chemistry and then barely studies for the rest of the film. If I remember high school correctly, it is pretty difficult to get out of a failing grade.
Rachel: My answer for this will kind of be based on nostalgia, but I guess that’s fitting for the genre. Although much different from her romance-novel writing guidance counselor role in 10 Things I Hate About You, Allison Janney’s character still kept bringing me back to that film (in a good way). One thing that especially impressed me about her “eccentric mom” character was the integration of her self-help motivational persona. Briefly bringing it back to social media, it kind of mirrors the way internet junkies today are obsessed with things like BuzzFeed and their endless listing of ways to improve your life or tell you who you are. As for Ken Jeong, I am an absolute sucker for his humor. I also felt that the movie benefitted from the guiding teacher character, because this is a movie about high school, and the teachers should be doing something in guiding these kids.
Tyler: I feel like I should start by saying that I love Allison Janney, but her performance didn’t work for me. Actually, it’s not that it didn’t work, but nothing about it stuck out to me because she’s played the kooky parent/adult so many times, I was immune to the humor in her scenes. The funniest scene she had for me was the one where the film basically lets a classic clip from The Simpsons run in its entirety. Making her a self-help guru seemed like it was only there so she could give the right advice in that self-help language towards the end. I liked Ken Jeong here for the most part. His humor has also worn on me, but when it’s used sparingly it still works. I didn’t bring it up in my question regarding the adults but I was very disappointed to see Romany Malco underused here. After 40 Year-Old Virgin and Weeds, I’m still waiting for him to become a thing but I think I’ll have to put those dreams to rest. As I said in the opening, the main reason I was interested in this movie was to see Mae Whitman since I’m a big fan of her past work. I thought she gave it her all here, but the material held the character and the performance back for me. What did you think?
Rachel: I mostly agree with you. Based on her past work, I am pretty confident that Whitman is capable of much more nuanced and smart comedy, whereas much of this film was of the “in-your-face” variety. On the other hand, I think this movie could have been terrible without her, depending on whoever else they would have cast. She brought great comedic timing and charm to the role. I don’t think the movie, however, will turn into a classic.
Tyler: I forgot about the porn fantasy. For me, this movie was a mess of ideas struggling to fit into the teen comedy.