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Monday, July 26, 2021

Film Review: The Duff

It’s the age-old story of the bubble gum-smacking mean girl, the locker-slamming jock and the frumpy girl next door that has turned the teen drama genre into an American classic. The films are countless: Pretty in Pink, Clueless, She’s All That and Mean Girls. The list never ends. Somehow audiences keep coming back to relive even the most irksome of high school memories.

We all have them, including the cast of The Duff who had to mentally recall their high school glory days throughout filming.

“It was a tough one, my own high school experience. So I just kind of went back there and relived those sad memories,” Mae Whitman, the actress who played the movie’s protagonist, said.

Whitman’s character, the overall-clad Bianca, learned the unpleasant truth of her status as a DUFF — Designated Ugly Fat Friend — whose sole purpose among the gruesome high school food chain is to make her own friends appear prettier in relation to her. Bianca is aggressive in working to remove her label as a DUFF, with the help of football team captain and neighbor Wesley, played by actor Robbie Amell.

Amell, who says he had a “tame” time in school, said that he believes the film is successful in grasping the true high school experience. He compares the film to John Hughes’ The Breakfast Club, in its ability to break down stereotypes throughout the course of the story.

“You know everybody is trying to find their way and figure out who they are, so it was just nice to see that in something that actually turned out to be so funny,” Amell said.

The film scoffs at the laughable place of teenage social media politics in high school. The official end to a friendship today, as Bianca establishes in the beginning of the film, is really the unfollow and unfriending on Instagram, Twitter, WeHeartIt, Tumblr and of course, Snapchat.

Cliches such as tearful scenes in bathroom stalls and trial and error dressing room montages are forgivable here. Whitman is endearing with her infectious sarcasm and facial expressions that are akin to iPhone emojis, making for a perfect modern-day Eliza Doolittle in clogs. Conversations between Bianca and Wesley are smooth and effortless, some of which were unscripted, according to Amell.

Madison, played by Bella Thorne, solidifies her role as resident mean girl with a hard slap that followed a sloppy kiss with Wesley. Whitman, an onlooker during the scene, added she didn’t know the slap was going to happen.

The movie abolished the notion of the inescapable high school social hierarchy, Whitman adds.

“It was important to me to communicate that you know the coolest kids in the world are bullied, just like me,” Whitman said.

The Duff opened everywhere Feb. 20.

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