Based on Kody Keplinger’s 2010 novel of the same name, ‘The DUFF’ revolves around high schooler Bianca Piper, who realizes that she has been labeled the “Designated Ugly Fat Friend” or “DUFF” of her group. Directed by Ari Sandel, this teen comedy film of 2015 explores pertinent themes of self-esteem, bullying, and the messy nature of teenage relationships. Mae Whitman (Bianca Piper), Bella Thorne (Madison Morgan), Robbie Amell (Wesley Rush), Allison Janney (Dottie Piper), and Ken Jeong (Mr. Arthur) star in pivotal roles.
Despite its lighthearted nature, ‘The DUFF’ touches upon some very realistic themes, delving into issues that high schoolers face every day. Naturally, viewers might wonder whether the movie borrows from real life. Let’s find out whether ‘The DUFF’ has its roots in a true story!
Is The DUFF a True Story?
‘The DUFF’ is partially based on a true story. Author Kody Keplinger first heard the term “DUFF” in her senior year of high school, when she overheard another girl complaining about how boys used the term to refer to her friend. After a moment of confusion and laughter, Keplinger realized that she found herself relating to the label. She deemed herself to be the least popular and most exploitable member of her group. However, a quick discussion with friends revealed that they all thought of themselves as “the DUFF,” and Keplinger jokingly considered the possibility of writing a book on it.
Soon, the idea grew more meaningful, and Keplinger decided to go ahead with a novel that would use comedy and wit to honestly explore the experiences of teenagers with insecurities and constrictive labels. Bianca, the protagonist, is based on Keplinger’s 17-year-old self. “I always tell people that Bianca is me on my worst days,” said Keplinger. “Our home lives are different, but we also have awesome, pretty friends and some self-esteem issues.” Clearly, high school is a turbulent period, where laughter, crushes, and friendships nestle alongside tears, bullies, and a struggle to gel with the crowd.
The cast of ‘The DUFF’ themselves had experienced the effects of being singled out and bullied in school, which added an element of authenticity to their characters. Mae Whitman, who plays Bianca, said, “I definitely was bullied and called weird names and that’s a big reason why I was drawn to doing this movie — to communicate that a lot of people go through this.”
Whitman, in fact, used her unpleasant experience as a means to mentally prepare for the role. “I just had to remember high school and how painful it was. I was bullied in school and so I just kind of had to go back to that unpleasant memory of how tough high school can be,” she confessed. Bella Thorne, who plays mean girl Madison, too had faced bullying in her childhood. Talking about it, she said, “I was bullied throughout school for being dyslexic so that kind of drew me to this movie, too.”
The movie and the novel highlight how insecurities target everyone — Bianca feels inadequate around her friends because of her insecurities and not because her friends put her down. Her best friends Jess and Casey too have insecurities and are not simply portrayed as insensitive bullies because of their good looks and popularity. The hypermasculine jock Wesley helps Bianca through a difficult time, while her crush, nice guy Toby, is revealed to be mean and judgmental. For a teen comedy, ‘The DUFF’ does try its best to subvert high school tropes. Well, Keplinger intended to do so.
“Everyone feels like the DUFF,” Keplinger observed, highlighting the theme of the book and the movie. “It’s really more about empowerment and being comfortable with who you are and to make it clear that everyone has felt like the DUFF. This is something we all can relate to, and if we embrace it, then it can’t hurt us. The whole message is to unify,” she opined, and the message was delivered! From high schoolers to celebrities like Kylie Jenner, everyone wore T-shirts plastered with the phrase ‘I’m Somebody’s DUFF’ at the height of the movie’s fame.
The teen comedy, albeit cheesy and exaggerated, is heartwarming because it does not force the protagonist to go through a physical or attitudinal transformation in order to gain popularity and admirers. ‘The DUFF’ values the notion of individuality, a valuable concept in a high school environment that pressurizes teenagers to be a certain way. It shows popular girls being both good and bad, bullies reforming their ways, and teenagers accepting themselves for who they are — all while the viewers gasp and giggle.
‘The DUFF’ continues to be counted amongst jewels like ‘Mean Girls,’ ‘Easy A,’ and ‘10 Things I Hate About You’ — highly entertaining movies that manage to wheedle a message into their storylines, employing well-worn cliches while trying to pack a motivating punch. All in all, the movie brings to screen an age-old, long-loved high school story complete with cliques, jocks, bullies, and crushes but with a twist — that of reality. Thus, ‘The DUFF’ is a lighthearted fictional take on a heavy-weight real-world truth — that it’s okay to be yourself.
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