Monday, March 23, 2015

On THE DUFF

THE DUFF, a teen comedy, is a fine example of how screwed up America's movie ratings board is.  The Duff is rated PG-13.  It's one of those comedies in which the kids rank hook-up sex more important than scholastic achievements and hot looks are more valuable than character.  Bianca is the drab girl who can't get a date.  She needs color.
She will get cyber-bullied by mean girls.  She will get angry and use some salty language.
Bianca says a couple o' lines that you would've expected to hear from Jack Nicholson as the hot-tempered, foul-mouthed sailor in 1973's The Last Detail.  Again, it's rated PG-13.

But Love Is Strange, a tender and beautifully done film about a gay married couple -- together for almost 40 years -- was rated R.  I reviewed Love Is Strange last month in my February postings.  The senior gay couple, played by John Lithgow and Alfred Molina, must part temporarily and ask relatives for help when job loss and the Recession leave them without their own home.  In one scene, the couple goes out to a local bar for a drink and recalls a group of political activists they knew decades ago.  They laugh and one refers to the activists as some "crazy motherf***ers."  Apparently, that one word in that one scene got the movie the R rating.  Was there sex or nudity in the film?  The steamiest thing you saw was a shirtless John Lithow.  Love Is Strange should've been nominated for Oscars and it should've been rated PG-13.  But the shadowy and conservative motion picture ratings board probably had a problem with a film focused on a very loving and kind gay married couple.  Meanwhile, The Duff  has a teen girl saying to a guy "...I'll rip your nutsack off" and "Eat a dick!"  Another character says "F***in' A!" and yet another teen says "I would totally bang the shit out of her.  But I wouldn't like it."  Mae Whitman stars as The Duff.  Her name is Bianca.  She finds out that her pretty friends in senior class consider her to be a "DUFF."  That stands for "Designated Ugly Fat Friend."
The football jock, who will be crowned homecoming king, convinces Bianca to get a style makeover.  He gives her tips on how to flirt with a guy.  He's straight and a bit of a jerk but he does sincerely try to help Bianca score with the long-haired dude she's got a crush on.
The football jock also happens to be the boy next door.  He and Bianca are neighbors.

Bianca is on the school newspaper staff gets assigned to write a feature titled "What Does Homecoming Mean To Me?"
There are teen comedies that, although aimed at young audiences, are so well-played and brightly written that they also appeal to middle-aged moviegoers.  My top examples are Clueless, a clever update on Jane Austen's Emma starring Alicia Silverstone, Mean Girls with a screenplay co-written by Tina Fey, Easy A with Emma Stone shining in a wonderful spin on Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, and Juno starring Ellen Page as a pregnant high school teen in the suburbs.

The Duff is enjoyable and the story's message is sound.  But the movie isn't as good as those four comedies I mentioned.  You don't mind that you've seen this kind of story before, but you've seen it previously done with much wittier scripts and more developed characters. Mae Whitman, who was a member of NBC's Parenthood cast, is good as Bianca.  There's a touch of the Juno about her in her braininess and awareness of people and things made famous prior to her birth.  For instance, she mentions actor Vincent  Price.  The other high school girls don't know who he is.  Also, one of the snappiest performances comes not from a teen character, but from Allison Janney as Bianca's divorced motivational speaker mom.  Janney, who also played the mom opposite Ellen Page as Juno, is a hoot and adds so much verve that you wish her part was larger.


If you see The Duff, I highly recommend you rent Love Is Strange.  You tell me if the touching drama about the same-sex married couple, together nearly 40 years, deserved a PG-13 rating like the one this teen comedy got.  If those two movies were high school term papers I was grading, I'd give Love Is Strange an A.  The Duff would get a C+.


2 comments:

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  2. While I think it was released before PG-13 had been introduced, I seem to recall Fast Times at Ridgemont High (the teen comedy of my generation) is rated R to this day. Not having seen The Duff I am not going to say it should be rated R, but Love is Strange should most definitely have been rated PG-13. I have to agree with you about the MPAA ratings board had a problem with the portrayal of a loving same sex couple.

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