THE DUFF Directed by: Ari Sandel Written by: Josh Cagan (screenplay), Kody Keplinger (novel) Starring: Mae Whitman, Robbie Amell, Bella Thorne,Bianca Santos, Skyler Samuels, Nick Eversman, Alison Janney, Romany Malco, Ken Jeong
MY FAIR LADY, CAN’T BUY ME LOVE, SHE’S ALL THAT, LOVE DON’T COST A THING, THE MAKEOVER and SELFIE. All are films or TV shows with the same narrative at the core: a ragamuffin of sorts is transformed into a walking talking beautiful sophisticate, only to learn they were perfect inside all along. In the grand tradition of films inspired by George Bernard Shaw’s play “Pygmalion,” now comes THE DUFF, director Ari Sandel’s adaptation of Kody Keplinger’s novel. Continue Reading
Kody Keplinger was only seventeen-years-old when her novel The Duff became a hot property – and she was still just a senior in high school. Cut to a few years later and she’s once again the talk of the Hollywood glitterati with the cinematic adaptation poised to drive in a teen audience in droves. In THE DUFF, snarky senior Bianca Piper (Mae Whitman) gets an unexpected wake-up call from blunt-but-bodacious jock Wesley (Robbie Amell). He informs her she’s “the D.U.F.F,” her group’s designated ugly fat friend. Since he’s flunking Chemistry and can’t be suspended from the football team and Bianca needs his help to make her over, a deal is struck! However, standing in the way of true happiness is Wesley’s ex, mean girl Madison (Bella Thorne), who stops at nothing to break this pair up.
I spoke with the affable author at the film’s recent Los Angeles press day about everything from what was lost from book-to-screen translation, to what made Whitman the perfect choice for the role, to what its cinematic inspiration was. It was not a John Hughes movie.
VeryAware: Has this been a whirlwind for you?
It’s funny. The book came out a few years ago and the movie option had sold even before the book hit the shelves. I kinda plugged my ears. ‘If it happens great, but I’m not getting my hopes up.’ Then a couple years go by and last year things fell into place; production started and they started casting people. It went from me telling myself ‘It probably won’t happen’ to ‘Things are actually happening quickly!’ Now here we are with a finished movie. I’m still not entirely recovered from the shock of it.
VeryAware: I feel like if there’s anything in the world that’s universal, it’s “the high school experience.” What was high school like for you? Did you feel like a cultural anthropologist when you wrote this?
(laughs) I definitely did not feel like a cultural anthropologist. That reminds me of the Lena Dunham quote, ‘I might be the voice of a generation. Or I’m a voice of a generation.’ I guess I feel more like that – a voice of a generation. When I was writing, I wrote for fun. It was something that kept me entertained but was a creative outlet for me. I was very nerdy. I loved film and TV. I loved to read. I loved sci-fi and fantasy. All my friends were in the same nerdy sphere of people. I went to a very small high school – like a hundred people. We all knew everyone. It was very not what you think of when you think of high school. There were cliques but they weren’t the kinds of cliques you’d think of. Where I’m from, the most popular kinds were the future farmers of America. I’m from the South. I find that people in high school are more multi-dimensional that people give them credit for. There’s a lot more layers in high school and the movie touches on that, which I really appreciated it.
When I first heard the word ‘duff’ being used in my high school, because it was. I didn’t make that word up – people were actually saying it. I felt like I was ‘the duff.’ When I told my friends that, they were like ‘No. No. I’m the duff.’ Everybody thought it was them. It started as a joke – I’m going to write this book – and all the clichés when you think of these ugly duckling stories don’t apply. She’s not going to take off her glasses and take out her ponytail and be a supermodel. I wanted her to be her throughout. I didn’t want her to be this angel either. I wanted her to be snarky and occasionally mean – a little sarcastic. I never thought I’d write it, but inspiration hit me and I just started writing. I learned a lot while writing this – my own thoughts on not just body image, but slut shaming and all the labels that exist in high school.
VeryAware: What I valued about this movie is that Bianca doesn’t have to dramatically change her outward appearance. That was obviously something that was in the book that made the cut to the screen.
Yeah. It was something that was very important to me always that there was no makeover. Yes, in the movie she does put on…
VeryAware: …a bra.
Exactly. What I love about the movie is there’s a moment where it could have gone that way. It could have turned into a makeover and it doesn’t. It makes it very clear that’s not what this is. She just put on a nice dress but she’s still very her. I think that was translated very well. That’s important to me that’s not the message. The message is we can all relate to this girl.
VeryAware: How much of a presence were you when Cagan wrote the script and during production? Did you wanna be involved?
I wasn’t at all involved with the movie, but I did get to go visit the set, which was such a cool experience. I got to visit Atlanta in June. I was there when they were filming a party scene. I got to meet some of the cast members. I got to film a small cameo in the movie which was really fun.
VeryAware: What was lost in the transition from book to movie that you wanted to see on screen and what things from the book came together better than what you had envisioned?
The biggest difference between the book and the movie is the book deals a lot with sexuality. If the book were to have been adapted as is, it probably would have been rated-R. It wouldn’t have been able to reach as wide of an audience as I want this message to reach. Even though we have this theme of slut-shaming in the book, the message of the book is that we all feel like the duff. That’s what always mattered to me. As long as it’s a good movie and has that same message, I’m gonna be okay with it. I love the way they’ve incorporated social media that wasn’t done in the book. I think that’s a nice way to modernize it and bring it to the current generation.
VeryAware: What was it about Mae that you thought she’d be perfect for Bianca?
Before the book was even published, I did a blog post with all of my dream casting. Mae Whitman was on my list for Bianca. It’s because I saw her in a couple of early episodes of PARENTHOOD. She just had this attitude. It was never about her looks – it was about how she carried herself and the way she spoke. She’s hilarious and so charming. When she was cast, my agent called me up and said, ‘You’re not going to believe this. Mae Whitman’s been cast as Bianca.’ At first I thought she was messing with me. People at CBS Films had no idea she was on my list. I told them after. That was just a wonderfully delightful coincidence. They had a similar vision than I did.
VeryAware: And Bella Thorne? She has a huge following and is good at being the stereotypical ‘mean girl.’
That character is actually not in the book. That’s what I thought was really interesting. In the book, Bianca is her own villain. Her internal self-esteem is really the antagonist. But that’s not going to exactly translate onscreen and you need an external presence to make that clear. Madison embodies that. She embodies a lot of Bianca’s own insecurities and is the vocal space for them. Bella did a really good job of making this character a little bit different from some of the other mean girls we’ve seen. She’s not Regina George from MEAN GIRLS. She’s her own character and clearly insecure about herself.
VeryAware: It’s funny what Bianca says to Madison felt like it could be a blueprint for bullied teens out there.
VeryAware: Did you have a Madison in your life and were you ever able to tell her off as perfectly as Bianca?
I was really lucky. There wasn’t a mean girl. There were definitely girls that were not very nice, but if anything, the mean girl in my life was more like the Amanda Bynes character in EASY A. I would get it from the judgmental kind of girl. Not to say I didn’t deal with some bullying, but it was very different. Listen, I’m Southern so people aren’t as…
Yes! Blatant. We’d be a little more passive-aggressive with each other. We’re trained so much to be polite. Like ‘I’m gonna be polite to her face, but I’m not gonna sit with her at lunch.’
VeryAware: Inevitably, this film will be mentioned with John Hughes era teen movies, CAN’T BUY ME LOVE, and SHE’S ALL THAT.
My biggest inspiration movie-wise when writing the book was JUNO, which people are always surprised by. That came out when I was in high school. That was my generation’s big teen movie. It was the voice. It’s got such a funny, quirky voice while also dealing with a serious topic. When I was writing the book, it was very much in my head – a funny, snarky take on serious situations. When my publisher bought the book, they said, ‘We really love it! It reminds us of JUNO.’ I was like, ‘They get it!’ I love teen movies, o I definitely have them in my head, but JUNO was my inspiration.
VeryAware: What’s next for you?
I have a book that comes out at the end of April called Lying Out Loud. It’s a companion novel to The Duff. Bianca and Wesley make appearances in it. It’s about a girl named “Sunny,” who is an excellent liar and how that ends up getting her into trouble. The reason I wanted to write this story is I had Sunny’s voice in my head. I wanted to write a story from the point of view of the person doing the Catfishing. Sunny is an excellent liar and she and a friend pull a prank on a boy in their class that leads Sunny to inadvertently Catfish her best friend. But when she kinda starts to fall for him it gets complicated.
Movie sequels may come and go, but when a fantastic ensemble is cast in a beloved comedy hit, audiences beg to see more. Why star John Cusack wasn’t included in the highly anticipated sequel to HOT TUB TIME MACHINE has remained a mystery – until now. In the film, Jacob (Clark Duke) and Nick (Craig Robinson) must travel to the future to save Lou’s (Rob Corddry) life and find his killer. On their way to the future, Jacob notices Adam’s trench coat lying next to the hot tub. Could that be a clue to who Lou’s killer is or is it an open door for Cusack to return at some point?
During a Reddit AMA back in February 2014, Cusack was asked why he’s not in the film.
“Wasn’t asked… gonna do a tv show of it.. and if they do another, depending on a few things, I’d be game. But I’d like to do it as a Netflix series next and get really, really, really weird with it…”
HOT TUB TIME MACHINE (L-R) Craig Robinson, Rob Corddry, John Cusack, Clark Duke
Cusack’s answers are intriguing given that he and director Steve Pink run production shingle, New Crime, together. At the film’s press day today, I asked Pink and Josh Heald about the key prop being left near the hot tub and if it’s acting as a breadcrumb that maybe we will see Cusack return to the franchise. Pink said,
“HOT TUB exists kind of like THE AVENGERS in terms of the universe. John is like Thor or Iron Man. The cosmos of HOT TUB TIME MACHINE very much like the cosmos of THE AVENGERS.”
“Yeah. We did want to put that there as a way of saying he didn’t just disappear from this universe.”
THE REWRITE Written and Directed by: Marc Lawrence Starring: Hugh Grant, Marisa Tomei, Bella Heathcote, Allison Janney, J.K. Simmons and Chris Elliott
Writer-director Marc Lawrence has met his muse in Hugh Grant. With his sheepish grin, foppy hair (now shorn) and stammer, Grant has been Lawrence’s avatar in four films and like any good partnership, their track record has been spotty. TWO WEEKS NOTICE and MUSIC & LYRICS have spotlit their strengths, whereas DID YOU HEAR ABOUT THE MORGANS? and their newest collaboration, THE REWRITE, have been their absolute worst. Despite having many key ingredients for success, THE REWRITE is in desperate need of, well, a rewrite. Awful, inauthentic characters populate the predictable picture. The dynamic duo have crafted something even dieh Continue Reading
If you’ve seen ELECTION and watch MODERN FAMILY, then you already know Reese Witherspoon and Sofia Vergara can bring the funny. HOT PURSUIT looks like it’s gonna do just that. Well, minus that joke about periods. Continue Reading