Monday, February 16, 2015

Chasing Catch-22

Fifty Shades of Grey continues its reign of terror at the box office at #1, with Kingsmen and SpongeBob still at #2 and 3, respectively... but what about the rest of us mere mortals?  What about the 99% of humanity that aren't billionaires or their strange-ass groupies?  What about us that aren't the audience's way in to an already long-established group of superheroes?  What about all the non-SpongeRoberts out there?  Well, it's nothing if not a time of reflection, of contemplation about our place in the universe.  Which brings me to The DUFF.  Now, it's rated PG-13, so it's probably not that.  And no, it's not a Simpsons spin-off movie either about their trademark beer, and how crumbled up bits of bacon have been added to it, making it more beloved among Springfield's beer-ficionados than ever.  No, it's a contemporary take on that old saw about the ugly duckling.  It's gone by many names over the years: ugly duckling, wingman, Mean Girls 2, what have you.  But movies have given certain concepts a sense of permanence, even more so than books; at least, they used to before the demise of video stores across the world.  What's becoming obsolete faster these days?  Books or DVDs?  And why does Tina Fey get credit for Mean Girls and not Rosalind Wiseman, the author of the book it's based on called ... Queen Bees and Wannabes?  I withdraw my question.
What I think I'm trying to say is ... geez, I take longer to make a point than Rush Limbaugh ... what I'm trying to say is that the "DUFF" in question is an acronym for "Designated Ugly Fat Friend."  The implication, of course, is that being a young, beautiful, sexually desirable teenager (to your fellow teenagers, of course) is in itself a form of drunkenness.  So, thank God for the ugly people, who keep society from collapsing into a complete orgy!  Which puts me in mind of my two favourite stories; it's apparently the ones I think of most often.  One, about how cows have strict pecking orders too; even when they're about to be turned into delicious, delicious steak, they go in in the same damn order every time, and two, about a couple of guys at the big Klan rally, and one says to the other something like "Even if we do manage to purify the race, we'll just keep going, and we'll go after people who dye their hair blonde, or we'll go after the ones whose eyes aren't blue enough."
But The DUFF doesn't have such pretensions to greatness, hence its debut at #5, but it is based on a novel, and I'm sure they're hoping to be the next Diary of a Wimpy Kid... even Hollywood proper is scratching its collective heads about how they squeezed three movies out of that.  But the concept of the designated ugly fat friend is one of the bedrocks of Hollywood storytelling.  Why, Thora Birch was the DUFF in American Beauty!  And Thora was the DUFF in Ghost World... or was it ScarJo?  I forget.  There's other examples, I'm sure... I'm not the guy to go to about examples, clearly... ah HAH!  Here's one.  The younger, less Conservative Dennis Miller once complained about being the Exposition Eunuch in The Net and Never Talk to Strangers.  But he got a little revenge in Joe Dirt and Bordello of Blood, with arguably mixed results.  Well, that's the price you pay sometimes: it's either doing movies, or being the next Johnny Carson.  Sometimes the world pushes back.
But let's look at it yet another way.  Who plays the DUFF in The DUFF?  Why, it's none other than veteran Disney actress Mae Whitman.  We'll leave aside the age considerations for now, but I suppose an actor or actress with 119 credits to their name at the tender age of 26 might have to let the academics slide a bit.  Let's focus on what it says about our standards of beauty.  I mean, Whitman's not exactly Rebel Wilson in the weight department.  Then again, going by face alone, she's got kind of a Daryl Hannah vibe going, right?  I guess it just depends on what you want out of life, but the societal games begin early.  Sure, high school was hell, but for me personally, middle school was much worse.  And knowing that that hell was going to follow me into high school my sophomore year, well... that tainted things quite a bit.  I guess what The DUFF is trying to say is what was once said in that memorable classic, Life Stinks.  The hero... or, rather, the star of the picture, Goddard Bolt, when they were tearing down a homeless encampment, I believe he said something like "They force me to live in the crap... now they're taking the CRAP away?  No!"  Why, it's right there at the top!  I guess the point is that when your position in the pecking order is threatened, no matter how lowly, sometimes you just gotta defend it... even if it means exploiting a jock or a cheerleader to do it.  Personally, I don't think I could ever go that far.  I'm not a total sociopath!
Speaking of sociopaths, Kevin Costner's February release, McFarland, USA debuts this week at ... whatever.  I think his plan is to release a movie every month this year.  For January, it was Black or White.  Who knows what March will bring?

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