Bianca and Wesley were the best of friends when they were still drinking from juice boxes. But funny things happen when you hit puberty and, maybe more importantly, high school. Wesley, blessed with a rocket arm and Brad Pitt glint, gravitated toward the football team and Malloy High's perennial alpha caste. Bianca, what with her fondness for flannel and penchant for cheesy horror flicks, wasn't exactly alpha material. But she still became BFFs with Jess and Casey, two of the prettiest girls in school. And for years, the three of them were inseparable.
They were, that is, until one fateful party when Wesley sidles up to Bianca and asks her what Jess and Casey are up to. Bianca gently informs Wes that she—contrary to popular opinion—is not her sisters' keeper.
You kind of are, though, Wesley says, since you're their "DUFF."
"What?" Bianca asks.
"You know, DUFF. Designated Ugly Fat Friend."
DUFFs are not necessarily ugly or fat, Wesley reassures her—they just look that way by comparison. DUFFs, he explains, serve as gatekeepers for their prettier, more popular associates—nonthreatening, approachable guardians who, of course, never pose a threat to the superior friends' social status. For Wesley, being called a DUFF is not an insult, but a simple descriptor of someone performing an important sociological duty. Frankly, Wesley thinks Bianca should be downright happy about her status. After all, if she wasn't serving as DUFF to two of Malloy's most gorgeous gals, her social situation might be south of the kid who eats boogers in study hall.
"You friended up!" he says.
But for some reason, Bianca doesn't feel all that grateful. She dumps a drink on Wesley, unfriends her friends on Facebook and proceeds to pout. And when she's squeezed out the last little bit of solace she can from her flannel pajamas, she crawls back to Wesley for help.
She doesn't want to be the DUFF anymore, Bianca explains. "I want to be the dateable one."
But un-DUFFing someone isn't as easy as waving a wand, Wesley tells her. He'll need to put her through a rigorous training regimen to change her societal trajectory—and even then it might not work.
The bigger question, Wes says, is why would she want it to?
Labels have a way of glomming onto folks in high school, and they can be difficult to shake. Part of Wesley's message to Bianca is, why try?
It's easy for Wesley to say, given his label is "handsome funny football jock." But Bianca eventually comes to see "DUFF" as a pretty meaningless designation. It's not what she's called that matters, but how she sees herself. "Own it," Wesley tells her. Not the label, of course, but yourself. Your strengths, your weaknesses, your quirks. If you're honest about yourself, and accept and like who you are, Wesley suggests, other people tend to like you more, too.
It's a strong message for those currently caught up in adolescence—an age in which social acceptance is so important and being ostracized can be devastating. Bianca is shunned and bullied and goes through humiliations galore in this story, but it's her growing ability to deal with her present—and steel herself for whatever might be inflicted on her in the future—that we find praiseworthy and inspiring.
By the way, neither Casey nor Jess considers Bianca a DUFF at all. She's their friend—and a great friend, too. When Bianca breaks off contact, they're hurt. And yet, when an embarrassing video of Bianca goes viral in school, it's Jess and Casey (the latter is a hacker of sorts) who take the video offline, salvaging perhaps a sliver of Bianca's reputation. They confess to her that they have their own insecurities—and they've often turned to bold Bianca for encouragement.
Bianca's mom, Dottie, isn't much help to her daughter for much of the movie. She's a motivational speaker who, when Bianca comes to her to confide, shuts her down with a stream of platitudes. But before the movie ends, Dottie has a better understanding of what Bianca really needs from her, and she does her best to give it.
Dottie joins several faith-based dating sites, including Christian Mingle and JDate (a Jewish dating service). When Bianca reminds her mother that she's not Jewish, Dottie explains that that makes her all the more exotic on the site. Someone says "let there be light," which Bianca recognizes as a biblical quotation. Jess, we're told, is a Zen Buddhist.
Bianca has a crush on a guy named Toby Tucker (calling him her "future baby daddy"), and when she and Wesley go shopping for new clothes, she jokingly fantasizes that a store mannequin is Toby. She makes a number of suggestive comments to and movements with the mannequin (including ripping off an arm and making the hand move around on her breast). A guy later mocks Bianca by engaging in the same sordid behavior with a CPR mannequin.
When Wesley suddenly kisses Bianca (surprising them both), she explains that only girls in porn videos like that sort of aggressive tongue action. They talk about their concepts of what goes on in porn movies, and when Bianca mentions that Wesley would probably be cleaning a pool or delivering a pizza or something, he asks, "How old is the porn you're watching?!" She later imagines the two of them in a porn movie, picturing a shirtless Wesley as a pool cleaner carrying a pizza.
Couples spend quite a bit of time kissing. Two teens leave a dance to make out in the school's journalism room. There's a whole lotta ogling going on, too. And we hear talk about sexual escapades (real and imagined), masturbation and a guy's penis—a body part that is also crudely drawn on a blackboard. In the outtakes during the credits, two male teachers share an awkward kiss.
A poster in Bianca's room depicts a buxom zombie in a bikini. Bianca and others wear revealing garb. She barges into a locker room, and we see guys wearing just towels. Wesley flexes his bare pecs to make Bianca giggle. Bianca licks his face. The two have a handful of discussions about the status of Bianca's breasts. As part of her reverse-DUFF training, Bianca puts the moves on a variety of strangers, and sometimes her come-ons can be goofily suggestive.
Bianca hits Wesley in the face when she thinks he's the one who disseminated the embarrassing video of her. Turns out, he didn't—and he shows her his own bloody knuckles, suggesting he was beating up anyone who was spreading the video around school. (We see him hollering at someone while holding him against a locker.) Bianca casually threatens folks with death or mutilation, including ripping someone's scrotum off.
Crude or Profane Language
One fully audible f-word serves as an exclamation of approval by Dottie while her daughter and her friends are in the room. There's also a subtitled use of "WTF" and two bleeped exclamations of the obscenity. We hear close to 20 s-words, along with "a--," "b--ch," "d--n," "h---" and "d--k." God's name is misused repeatedly, and Jesus' is abused at least twice. Testicles are rudely referred to in a variety of contexts. Someone's called a whore.
Drug and Alcohol Content
High schoolers tote around red plastic cups at a party. Several look like they're playing beer pong, while a hostess dispenses what look like Jell-O shots. In flashback, we see Dottie drink a glass of wine while driving a lawnmower over her ex-husband's clothes. Some at school think Wesley's taking steroids.
Other Negative Elements
Bianca is relentlessly bullied and badmouthed. There's lying and conniving and posturing. Bianca tells Wesley that when her parents split, her mother wanted custody of her and her dad wanted custody of the dog. When Bianca overhears Wesley's parents fighting, she asks whether they're going to get divorced. "I sure hope so," he confesses.
"People like me matter here," Malloy mean girl Madison tells Bianca. "People like you never matter."
That's a lie, of course. Bianca—and people like her—do matter. And often they matter quite a lot more as adults than the bullies who tormented them in school. Bianca may be called a DUFF, but nearly everyone feels like one sometimes. The critical thing in life isn't what you're called, but who you are. And that's a pretty great message. Paying homage to all those John Hughes movies from days gone by (The Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink), The DUFF tells us that underneath all the labels and inside all the cliques we're really just people. And it'd sure be great if we could all be a little nicer to one another.
Alas, the film isn't all that nice itself. It means well enough, but it slathers on a great deal of unnecessary sexual content, and that's too bad. Sure, it's nice to say we've all been where Bianca's at—as long as "been there" doesn't include making out at the school newspaper or doing Jell-O shots at a party. But that's not exactly what we're told here. The insecurities we experience in high school are pretty universal. We're all normal, the story says—as long as we're willing to swear up a storm, party hearty and engage in heavy petting, that is. In The DUFF, owning your quirks only goes so far.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Mae Whitman as Bianca; Robbie Amell as Wesley; Bella Thorne as Madison; Bianca A. Santos as Casey; Skyler Samuels as Jess; Romany Malco as Principal Buchanon; Nick Eversman as Toby; Chris Wylde as Mr. Filmore; Ken Jeong as Mr. Arthur; Allison Janney as Dottie
Ari Sandel ( )
February 20, 2015
June 9, 2015