THE DUFF (2015)

February 18, 2015

duff Greetings again from the darkness. I was never a teenage girl, and for that, I am quite thankful. By comparison, being a teenage guy was a breeze. No filmmaker was better than the great John Hughes at capturing the challenges of high school … especially for girls. The mysteries of adolescent social hierarchy has long been a favorite movie target, and director Ari Sandel (Oscar winner for his short film West Bank Story) and screenwriter Josh Cagan loosely base their film on the novel from Kody Keplinger.

Mae Whitman (from TV’s “Parenthood”) stars as Bianca, a very smart student who enjoys hanging with her two best friends Casey (Bianca Santos, Ouija) and Jess (Skyler Samuels). That all changes one evening at a party when Bianca’s neighbor, and the school’s alpha-jock, Wesley (Robbie Amell, Firestorm in TV’s “The Flash”), informs her that she is the titular “DUFF” … Designated Ugly Fat Friend. The term itself is quite offensive, but the movie does its best to soften the blow by explaining that it doesn’t necessarily mean ugly or fat – a confusing turn, but fortunate since Ms. Whitman is neither.

As you might imagine, the familiar terrain of teen angst movies is covered and any hope of real insight is dashed pretty early on. However, it does spend a significant amount of time driving home the point that social media plays a dominant role in every aspect of teen life these days, including cyber-bullying. It’s no wonder that insecurities abound … one never knows when their trip to the mall or make-out session with a mannequin will become a viral video.

There are familiar aspects of such classics as Pretty in Pink, She’s All That, and Mean Girls. Robbie Amell even looks very much like Michael Schoeffling from Sixteen Candles. However, the film features two of my movie pet peeves. First, Mae Whitman and Robbie Amell are both in their mid-20’s – entirely too old to be playing high school students. Secondly, Mr Amell plays a jock but clearly cannot throw a football like one – and he does it three cringe-inducing times.

Mae Whitman has excellent screen presence and comes across as a blend of Janeane Garofalo, Ellen Page, and Aubrey Plaza. That’s pretty high praise, but she elevates a script that needs it, and holds her own with screen vets like Allison Janney (as her distracted mom) and Ken Jeong (as her slightly loopy journalism teacher).

The film is a commentary on today’s high school life, but the predictability and obvious gags prevent it from ever going too deep or appealing to any audience other than “tweeners”. Still, any film that smacks down the nasty people (here played by Bella Thorne) and advises to be true to one’s self, can’t be all bad.

watch the trailer:

 


LAST VEGAS (2013)

November 9, 2013

last vegas1 Greetings again from the darkness. I’ve been writing about “Gray Cinema” for the past few years and the understandable desire of Hollywood to capitalize on the aging population. Take that trend and mix it with new-age buddy pictures like The Hangover and Bridesmaids, and you can at least imagine what director Jon Turteltaub (the National Treasure movies) and writer Dan Fogelman (the very entertaining Crazy Stupid Love) were attempting to create.

The film’s poster recalls the glory days of the Rat Pack, so taking this foursome of sixty-something year old childhood buddies to Las Vegas presents many possibilities. There is no shortage of enthusiasm from the four leads: Michael Douglas as Billy, the smooth-talking lifelong bachelor who proposed to his thirty-ish girlfriend at a funeral; Morgan Freeman as Archie, suffocating in a cocoon of family over-protection; Robert Deniro as Paddy, the isolated widow wallowing in grief for the past year; and Kevin Kline as Sam, the stir-crazy Florida stereotype bored with 4:00 dinner parties and his marriage.

last vegas2 These top notch actors give it all they have, but there is just no rescuing such fluff and lack of substance. The script is frustrating throughout and just gives no credit to an audience that might appreciate even a gag or story line that wasn’t obvious from the opening credits. Mary Steenburgen‘s character provides a brief respite, but the developments are so absurd that neither her character or the story line can be taken seriously.

Toss in a bar fight, bikini contest, mandatory viagra jokes, a world class Casino penthouse, an inconceivable party that would be shut down by fire code, and a wasted cameo from 50 Cent … and you get a lame, flat, mostly unfunny story that barely skims the surface of an endless stream of possibly interesting topics.  It’s certainly not at the level of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel … or even Space Cowboys.

I’ll end by stating that I am a huge fan of Gray Cinema, but my request is that some effort go into the script and production so that viewers are provided with an entertaining and intelligent and respectful experience. There is no need to dwell on the bits of culture that have passed them by or the physical ailments that plague their activities. Luckily, the stellar cast prevents this one from flopping to the level that the script deserves.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you can appreciate the novelty of a cast of leading men all in their sixties and seventies OR you get a kick out of knowing the punchline of every joke before it actually happens

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you expect a certain level of “smarts” in movies … even comedies.

watch the trailer:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IMnr-R7BkkU