Before I watched the trailer for the recently released movie, The DUFF, I had no idea what a DUFF even was. Within the first thirty seconds of the trailer, however, I was enlightened: DUFF is an acronym for “designated ugly fat friend,” a label used to describe the film’s heroine Bianca (Mae Whitman) by her childhood-friend-turned-popular-jock neighbor, Wesley (Robbie Amell). Despite his insistence that it’s “not a big deal,” Bianca ends up taking this new label to heart, enlisting Wesley’s help so that she can transform herself from DUFF to dateable.
I was furious. How could anybody ever think making this movie would be a good idea? From the looks of the trailer, The DUFF looked like every other horrible teen movie in which a girl has to undergo an incredible transformation so she can become popular or impress a guy (I’m looking at you, Sandy). And even worse, this time it had a four letter acronym to inform that girl just how pathetic she was. What kind of horrible effect would this have on the self-esteems of those seeing the movie? I feared for the film’s targeted demographic, the Tween Girls of America. Concerned – and admittedly curious – I decided to see the movie in theaters so I could evaluate for myself just how terrible it really was.
When I sat down in the theater, I was absolutely ready to tear The DUFF to pieces. I felt as if I already knew the plot: girl is told by a hot guy she’s ugly, girl enlists said hot guy to help her change everything about herself so that society will like her, girl somehow gets hot guy, million of young female viewers walk away from the movie worrying about whether or not they’re a DUFF, the end. Before the lights dimmed in the theater, I was already annoyed at having spent money on the ticket.
To my surprise, however, The DUFF was not what I expected. That’s not to say it didn’t follow the same generic plot as a lot of high school targeted movies, or that it didn’t have its faults, because it definitely did both of those things – but it attempted to delve a lot deeper into the ideas of self acceptance and self love than I had thought it would.
Instead of what I’d predicted, The DUFF wound up being much more self-aware of its genre. For example, Bianca refers to John Hughes films several times in a very Easy-A manner. The movie is nearly as funny and quotable as Mean Girls, and most importantly, it includes a somewhat sappy homecoming ending scene that preaches to viewers the idea that labels shouldn’t affect how people see themselves. The movie is based on a young adult novel of the same name by Kody Keplinger, who began writing the story at age seventeen and published it a year later. Keplinger said about her novel and the adaptation in an interview with Teen Vogue, “I think sometimes people are put off by the title because it’s a harsh term, but that’s not what my intentions were at all. It’s really more about empowerment and being comfortable with who you are.”
The whole concept of being a DUFF is horrible. It perpetuates the idea that it’s okay to judge people based on their physical appearance and to constantly compare them to others. This movie is thankfully very aware of that, and it does make an effort to communicate to the audience that, to quote Bianca during her homecoming scene, “Labels shouldn’t define who you are.”
That being said, this movie still has its faults. For starters, Mae Whitman is neither ugly nor fat. Although Wesley tells Bianca that being a DUFF is more about being the approachable one in a friend group, she still finds herself scrutinizing her body in the mirror shortly after he tells her this. It bothers me that the film seems to suggest that someone with Whitman’s figure should even be questioning whether or not her body is “right.” Since the movie emphasizes that being a DUFF isn’t technically about appearances and is more about approachability, I struggle to understand why that particular acronym had to be used. I was also upset by Bianca giving her friends the cold shoulder for almost the entire movie after being told she was their DUFF. Instead of trying to reconcile, she blocks them on literally every form of social media the movie’s writers could think of. From that point on, their role in the film is minimal, and Bianca essentially replaces her best friends with her soon-to-be boyfriend Wesley, who broke apart the friendship in the first place.
This film and the issues it deals with are complicated (I mean, so is high school), and for Hollywood, this kind of material and message seem to be challenging to execute well. In my opinion, The DUFF was more of a success than it was a failure – it was surprisingly witty and engaging, and although it’s not exactly the Feminist High School Flick of the Century, I think Bianca’s self actualization is definitely a step in the right direction.
Meg Chu is a college sophomore from New York. She was born on the day the Metropolitan Museum of Art closed its Origins of Impressionism exhibit, and she enjoys wearing a variation of black and dark grey. In her spare time, she likes running, reading, eating tofu, and complaining about things on the Internet.