VERSUS REVIEW: The D.U.F.F. Book Vs. Movie

by - April 29, 2015

Why do I love some good Young Adult fiction, you ask? I think there's a few reasons. The first is that there's something nostalgic about the way things mattered when we were all coming of age. Everything was over the top, every emotion felt like a hurricane, and every relationship seemed like the most important thing in the world. There's something about going back to that headspace as an adult who knows better. Ultimately, I feel like there's been a surge of movies based on teen fiction because both the book and movie industries figured out how big the market is there, and that it's not just going to be teen girls enjoying them.

I'm going to spoil this review from the very beginning and tell you that I loved this book and absolutely hated the movie. I probably would have enjoyed the movie a touch more if I hadn't read and appreciated the book so much, but not by much. 

Anyway, keep reading to read my thoughts on the book and movie, and all of the things lost in translation that left such a bad taste in my mouth after watching the movie.

WARNING: There will be spoilers for both the book and the movie in this review. Just saying. Also, it's long because I have feelings. Skip to the VERDICT at the end if you want the Cliff's Notes version.

In the book, the friendship between Bianca and her two "beautiful" friends, Jess and Casey, is incredibly important to her, but when she starts to struggle with an issue from her past as well as the secrets she's trying to keep in the present and her sudden insecurity at having her role as the Designated Ugly Fat Friend pointed out to her makes her pull away. In the movie, she dramatically ends her friendship with the two people closest to her because she has a meltdown and then we only see the two friends in the periphery for most of the rest of the movie. In the book, those friendships need to be resolved and all three of the characters have the opportunity to express their feelings of hurt over the situation and repair the relationships that are so important to them. In the movie, the girls seem to just hug and make up and then the pretty ones give the "ugly" one a makeover so she can get the guy - Simple as that.

I feel like positive, complicated portrayals of friendships between female characters are incredibly important in teen fiction because friendship is one of the most important things in the world at that age. I feel like this movie missed the whole point on that and boiled these friendships down to a really superficial thing and Bianca's two best friends to characters whose only purpose was to drive the I AM SO UGLY AND FAT AND EVERYONE KNOWS IT aspect of the story and then assist in the emotional epiphany at the end where Bianca realizes that everyone feels like The DUFF sometimes. Puke. Sorry, but puke.

Mean Girls & Social Media:
Apparently no teen movie can be complete without a mean girl and no 2015 teen movie can be complete without an addiction to social media. I don't know. The character Madison wasn't actually in the book, because she was entirely unnecessary to the story. I sincerely hated this aspect of the movie. First of all, the pop up texts and hashtags felt like they were condescending to a younger generation rather than relating with them. Second of all, the completely needless cyber bullying and public humiliation that Bianca goes through was... absolutely disgusting, but also downplayed. Do the people who wrote this movie seriously think that a teenage girl who was targeted and victimized like that would just let it roll off? Honestly, I don't even want to talk more about it because it was just gross. And horrible. And seriously entirely unnecessary, especially if they weren't going to productively deal with emotional fall out.

In the book, Toby Tucker is the guy that Bianca has had a crush on forever. He's a bit of a nerd, incredibly intelligent and on his way to an Ivy League education and a plan to go into politics. Bianca is drawn to the fact that he's confident and intelligent, while being a little bit of a nerd. Towards the end of the book, after Bianca has gone through some of her most emotionally trying things and has fallen for Wesley but ended things with him, she and Toby start to date. In the end, they both acknowledge that while they do like each other, it's just not going to work because they both have feelings for other people and he encourages Bianca to act on her feelings for Wesley. In the book, Toby is a genuinely nice guy, but the way things play out you don't root for him and Bianca to be together because it just isn't a good fit. You never hate Toby, you're not supposed to hate Toby. Toby is great, he's just not right for Bianca.

In the movie, Toby Tucker is a douche with luxurious hair who plays cheesy, sophmoric ballads on his guitar while tossing his luxurious hair around dramatically. I'm pretty sure Bianca is supposed to have a crush on him because he seems deep and emotional and has luxurious hair or something. I don't know. In the end, he "DUFF's" her by basically asking to be hooked up with her friends in a scene that is absolutely horrible - and again, needlessly humiliating for the main character. I hate a lot of things about this movie, but what they did to Toby might be the thing that I hate the most.

In the book, Wesley Rush is a big man on campus. He's from and incredibly wealthy family, well liked, a bit of a slut, and all around kind of an ass. He is, of course, the one who takes a huge hit at Bianca by calling her The DUFF. The thing about Wesley is that he's also incredibly lonely, abandoned by his parents, estranged from his little sister, treated with derision by his grandmother, and just trying to get through life by slapping a smile on his face and playing the role he so easily fits into. In the movie, Wesley is Bianca's neighbor that she grew up with in your standard middle class suburb - And in case this movie wasn't packed full of enough clichés, they can see into each other's bedroom windows, because of course. 

In the book, Wesley and Bianca get assigned to write a paper together on The Scarlet Letter and this is where their relationship starts to evolve as they both deal with significant issues in their families and feelings about themselves. (Did I mention that classic literature plays a pretty important role in the book and literally isn't mentioned ever in the movie? Because that's a thing.) In true teen movie clichè spirit, after finding out that she's The DUFF and having a meltdown, movie Bianca offers to help Wesley get his Science grades up so he can stay on the football team if he'll give her a makeover and make her Not The DUFF or something. I can't, you guys. 

Initially, in the book, they really don't like each other. Actually, more accurately, Bianca strongly dislikes him because of the usual reasons: He's a douche, he's slutty, he called her The DUFF. In the movie, I guess she dislikes him for the same reasons, so I guess there's that?

Sex & Life Struggles:
Anyway, as her parent's marriage breaks up and her father relapses into alcoholism, Bianca ends up sleeping with Wesley. Yes, sex! They have sex. A lot of sex. They have girl-on-the-receiving-end oral sex even. Sex is an escape from the real life things that Bianca is struggling with in this book, which is actually something that makes it feel real and interesting to me. It's a significant part of the story, both in regards to how Bianca feels about herself, works through a previous sexual experience that was heartbreaking to her, and how she feels about Wesley. You see changes in their relationship in the way that they approach sex, the way that they interact after sex, and the way that Bianca feels about the choices she's making in regards to sex. Sex is a huge part of this story and probably the thing that makes it feel most authentic and unique - because teenagers have sex. Teenage girls have and enjoy consensual sex and teen fiction rarely touches on this fact, so this was a pretty significant aspect of this book.

There's no sex in the movie. There's no mention of sex. In fact, the only time anyone ever mentions sex, it's in a really objectifying way towards the girls that Bianca is supposed to be considered inferior to. Because, you know, women are nothing if not sex objects, right? UGH. 

There's also no alcoholic father - in fact there's no father at all - or absentee parents and estranged sister for Wesley. There's a significant scene in the book where Bianca's father gets really drunk and starts calling her a whore and hits her, which leads to Wesley punching him and taking Bianca to his house where she'll be safe. There's an emotional connection made here, where they both really connect in understanding each other's family issues and struggles. But, like I said, neither of these storylines exist in the movie at all.

There's no real issues in this movie at all. Of course, Bianca is cyberbullied and publicly humiliated... but she doesn't really struggle with that like an actual person would. It's embarrassing and she runs down the hall through a crowd of people staring at her dramatically, but that's it... Then it's over and she's back to needing to impress the luxurious haired douche and be pretty or something. And then suddenly she's in love with Wesley because... I don't know, he makes inappropriate masturbation jokes and kissed her in the woods when he was stressed out about his parents fighting. Ugh.

One more minor but important difference... In the book, Wesley realizes how much he cares about Bianca and wants to be with her after she ends things with him and he writes her a really genuine letter to tell her how he feels about her. In the movie, Wesley realizes that he wants to be with Bianca when she looks really hot at a dance and stands up to the Mean Girl and so he kisses her in front of everyone and sweeps her out of the dance instead of getting his Homecoming King crown. Make your own conclusions here, I feel like you already know how I feel about this.

Everything that made me love this book is missing from the movie. Literally, everything. As far as I can tell, they took the character names, dropped the things that were complicated or sexual or, you know, real, and boiled it down to every boring, played out cliché of a teen movie all about a teenage girl who just wants to feel pretty and get the guy finding her confidence in the end. The thing that made it the worst is that the source material was SO GOOD and so different, which is absolutely what made the book a success. The book wasn't successful because of the idea of the designated ugly fat friend. It was a success because of the emotion, because of how real and authentic the characters and their situations felt. Readers want that. Viewers want that. 

At some point, Hollywood is going to get it, right?

Anyway, if you've stuck with me this far, thank you very much. If you enjoy YA novels and you haven't read The DUFF, you should go buy it right now because it's one of the best, in my opinion.

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