âThe Duff”
            Hereâ€s hoping that this doesnâ€t start a trend among already-beleaguered teens.  The premise here is that â€The Duff” is the person in your group who is the â€Designated Ugly Fat Friend.”  Sheâ€s the one with the bubbly personality, somewhat geeky, but approachable, and therefore important as a gateway to her better-looking friends. If youâ€re a hot football player, say, and you want to know if the pretty head cheerleader might be â€into you,” then you approach The Duff and inquire of her.  That way youâ€ve got a layer of insulation against rejection.  The further premise here is that high school guys also operate under a similar unspoken social hierarchy, but this movie isnâ€t about them, anyway. 
            Veteran child actress Mae Whitman plays Bianca, whose best friend, actually, is the boy next door, Wesley (Robbie Amell), but though the viewers immediately realize their emotional connection, she doesnâ€t.  She thinks she is part of the cool chick clique at school, the popular tandem of Casey and Jess, and so far she hasnâ€t realized that actually, sheâ€s The Duff.  Until Wesley tells her.
            Now sheâ€s completely bummed out.  She thought Casey and Jess were her friends, but Bianca can simply look in the mirror and realize how close this is to the truth.  (Actually, Ms. Whitman is probably neither fat enough nor ugly enough for this part, but this is about perception, not reality.) 
            There are some really creative moments in this film, especially the part about applying portable labels to the students as they sit in classrooms, or walk down the halls.  The caricatures of certain cliques (Goth, Glee Club, Jocks, Nerds) are universally recognizable.  But unfortunately nearly everyone is a caricature, and sometimes not a very convincing one.  The prototypical â€Mean Girl” seems to possess an exalted social position even though we hear nothing but ugly invective coming out of her mouth.  The so-called quarterback has a limp throwing motion that indicates he couldnâ€t hit a receiver more than five yards away.  The quirky sense of humor sometimes works, especially the heroineâ€s charming self-deprecation, but thereâ€s way too much egregious gutter slang and sex talk in the dialogue to recommend this to church youth groups. 
            And the ending has certainly been done before:  yes, itâ€s the boy next door who really loves her, but first she has to learn to accept herself, and quit trying to be somebody sheâ€s not in order to impress everyone else.  Thatâ€s certainly a worthy moral to the story, but hereâ€s hoping the concept of The Duff doesnâ€t cause as much wrenching self-doubt and chaotic social confusion in nationwide teen circles as it does in this film.
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen is the Parish Associate, Woodhaven Presbyterian Church, Irving , Texas