Rated PG-13. Running time: 1 hour 41 min.
Our content ratings (1-10): Violence 1; Language 2; Sex/Nudity 5.
Our star rating (1-5): 3
Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould…
Romans 12:2a (J.B. Phillips)
In this Ari Sandel-directed film Bianca Piper (Mae Whitman) is a high school senior content on going her own way as an outsider. She dresses in unfashionable flannel shirts and coveralls and wears little makeup compared to the other mini-skirted or tight-jeaned girls who look like candidates for a modeling agency. Her room is decorated with posters that show her love for horror and zombie movies rather than romantic comedies. She has two gorgeous friends Casey and Jess (Bianca A. Santos and Skyler Samuels) with whom she enjoys hanging out. The most likely to be Homecoming Queen Madison (Bella Thorne) scarcely notices while marching down a corridor, expecting every girl to get out of her way, and every boy to cast lustful glances at her.
Then comes the night at a party when Bianca’s next door neighbor, football captain Wesley (Robbie Amell), off-handedly remarks that she is a DUFF. When she is puzzled by the term, he explains it to her–Designated Ugly Fat Friend. Pointing around the room at various groupings, he says that the Duff is not really part of a group but the one who runs errands for the others and who is used by people to gain access to one of her friends—and you do not have to be either fat or ugly to be a Duff. This hits Bianca like the sky had fallen on her head, leading her to change both herself and the social media-based atmosphere at her school. Her first step is to “unfriend” two her pals on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, etc. They are hurt and puzzled by her new hostility.
Bianca has wanted to date a dreamboat named Toby (Nick Eversman), but finds herself lost for words whenever face to face with him. Wesley, a jock needing good grades to be able to win a football scholarship for college, is failing chemistry, so Bianca agrees to help him pass the subject in return for his coaching her in how to relate to a guy. He has been going with Madison, but she has temporarily cooled their romance. However, when she sees him spending time with Bianca, she, with the help of another glamour girl who secretly tapes Wesley showing Bianca what clothes to buy at the mall in order to be more practical, posts the videos with demeaning comments on all the social media.
This adaptation of Kody Keplinger’s young adult novel is no Breakfast Club or Sixteen Candles (actually closer to 2010’s humorously raunchy Easy A, also a film that also shows the power among teens of social media), but it is far above the majority of high school films. The adults (mainly the teachers) are sometimes a bit sappy, but not totally stupid or clueless. Allison Janney’s Dottie, Bianca’s mom, even comes up with some good advice near the climax. And Bianca’s two glamorous friends, clueless as to why she had broken with them, are quick to reconcile with her when they discover the reason she had stopped hanging out with them, thus making a good point about friendship. (Indeed, the script’s failure to show any details of their friendship before the break is a weak point of the film.) The change in her relationships with Toby and Wesley we can see coming, but this is fine. The lessons on cyber bullying and the need to be yourself might be a bit heavy handed for some, but are well taken. All in all, this is a film that even adults can watch with just a little bit of wincing.
This review with some discussion questions will be in the March 2014 issue of Visual Parables.