Manged to squeeze in seeing a film this weekend: so this is my first of many film rants.
‘The Duff’ wants to be genre defining. It wants to be this decades ‘Clueless’ or ‘Mean Girls’. It’s not. What it ends up being is a frustratingly middle-of-the-road high school romance which is instantly forgettable. ‘Duff’, just like ‘Fetch’, isn’t going to happen….
The film has contradictory ideas about male approval and self-image. Though it’s parting message about being yourself and not changing yourself for anybody else are ultimately positive, little else is. This film is clearly trying to be a postmodern twist on the conventional tropes of the genre, but most of these aspects are simply less successful than films that have gone before it.
An example of this would be the female lead – an underdog protagonist trying to negotiate the social minefield of teenagehood. It is implied early on, and referred to frequently throughout the film in a rather clunky manner, that she is quirky and ‘different’. She enjoys watching horror films on her own! She knows who Bela Lugosi is – gasp! Because her two closest friends are model-esque beauties with brains, she is labelled a D.U.F.F (designated ugly fat friend).
Ignoring the complex ideas raised by a label such as this actually existing, the actress playing the self-titled ‘DUFF’ is neither of these things particularly – she is refreshingly ‘normal’. So, with this casting, is Hollywood addressing the stupid notions and categorisation that exist regarding Western ideals of beauty? Or, and most concerningly, is a woman who is not striking and model-thin therefore automatically percieved as an underdog in society? Although it is explained in the film that a girl does not need to be ‘fat’ or ‘ugly’ to be a DUFF, she simply just has to be less popular than her friends. This then implies that popularity and looks are interlinked and equally important, which is a disconcerting message to be presenting to the young target audience.Though the film ends with a comforting voiceover outlining that she has discovered that this does not matter, and it is how you feel inside that counts, it contradicts the pro-makeover attitude presented within the rest of the film
Her characterisation is also an issue. What she lacks in wit she compensates with personal insults, which make her rather unlikeable. The clear intention for this film is for us, the audience, to root for her and cheer her on as she tackles the obstacles in her journey of discovering herself. This is not made easy with a slow and plodding plot, in which little particularly new or different happens.
Compare this to the rather underrated ‘Easy A’, in which the protagonist (played by Emma Stone) is far more likeable and funny in a smarter and more observant film. When compared to any of the previously mentioned films, ‘The Duff’ does not fair well at all.