Cert: 12A / 101 mins / Dir. Ari Sandel / Trailer
You've seen this before. The title may not be familiar to you, and the same could go for the cast, but you've seen this before. A comedy-romance tale of teenage love, trust, friendship, bitching, underdogs and self-discovery, The Duff is never outright unlikeable, but is lazy to the point of being a Greatest Hits / cover-version of all high-school comedies, ever. Only with extra hashtags. That's what the kids like, apparently.
You really get the feeling that the movie has been written by a middle-aged man (and it was) who has a teenage daughter and mistakenly believes he understands them as a result. There's a Batman reference in there, but it's not Affleck. Not even Bale. It's a nod to the 1989 Keaton flick. The film also features a faux-awkward Spinal Tap reference. I was actually starting to think that as a 40-something geek, maybe I was the target demographic after all. Usually I'd say 'we were all there once', but I'm not sure that screenwriter Josh Cagan has ever actually been a teenager. (Note to Mr. Cagan: You don't get unfriend-notifications on Facebook. Please use Facebook before writing about Facebook*1. Thanks.)
Leading the pack of stereotypes is Mae Whitman, who has already (more than) earned her comedy stripes, and is so much better than this film that I suspect she may have taken the role to prove the point to her agent. And although he's likeable enough as a supporting player, Robbie Amell does seem to have 'young Tom Cruise' as his practiced, default expression. What kind of aspiration is that for the next generation of actors?
The film uses a few on-screen graphic displays which it fails to maintain as an ongoing meme (perhaps thankfully), and also has some fantasy/daydream sequences and an inner-monologue in the same sporadic manner. Almost as if they've been tacked on as an afterthought in post-production but weren't able to be expanded out as a feature. Luckily when it *does* work (which is more often than I'm making it sound, to be fair), The Duff coasts on charm rather than merit, although that by no means papers over the cracks. The film is typified by that moment where a character switches off a bedside lamp, and the technician who's been tasked with turning on the blue lighting state that passes for night-time in movies, does so a fraction of a second too late. And that's the take which makes the final cut. It's lazy, cliched and as transparently false as the stuck-up characters it claims to be preaching against.
The Duff will be fine for audiences young enough to be tasting the formula for the first time, but it'll seem a little stale to everyone else.
If the final twenty minutes of the film were any more patronising, director Ari Sandel would need to man the door as the credits rolled so that he could pat every audience member on the head as they left.
In no way, shape or form.
I shouldn't imagine, so.
Probably not, but best not bring it up, eh?
Mae Whitman appeared in the lamentable A Million Ways To Die In The West, as did Liam 'Qui-Gon' Neeson.
*1 Fair play, the film-makers have somehow got both Apple and Google to sign off on using their branding (a feat which a significant number of films either can't or won't do). We also get an ad-shot from Urban Dictionary, although I suspect that license probably came out of the petty cash ;)
• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
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