"If you don't know who it is, it's probably you."
Yay for teen movies preying on girls' insecurities?
The Duff is a recent popular YA novel about a girl labelled the "Designated Ugly Fat Friend" by a hot guy. She hooks up with him while she's dealing with other problems at home, and then realizes that every girl thinks they're the Designated Ugly Fat Friend, and that everyone in highschool is struggling against labels to figure out who they are. Yay, self-affirming happy ending. Not my favorite book, I had some issues with it, but enjoyable enough.
The new movie version, due out in mid-2015, feels like a different story. It's a mash-up of 90s teen movies and Mean Girls, combining the tongue-in-cheek detached narrative style with the idea that the "ugly" friend can become beautiful if only she can find a hot guy to remove her glasses.
Assumedly, the movie will still end with the idea that everyone thinks they're the "Ugly Fat Friend" (although the protagonist's friends have been cast as so model-attractive that that feels a little hard to believe), and everyone will laugh and feel good about themselves and run off into the sunset together.
But that message from the book is completely negated by the tagline: "if you don't know who it is, it's probably you." Aka, if you've never considered that you or one of your friends must be the "ugly fat one" used by everyone else to look better to guys, then the "ugly fat one" must be you. At best, it encourages girls to compare themselves to their friends, and either reassure themselves that their friends are fatter and uglier than them, or feel comparatively bad about themselves -- yay for introducing more competition and self-loathing into teenage friend groups. It not only provides another label for girls to apply to themselves, it actively encourages girls to think about how the label fits into their friend group, and tells them that, as they've never thought about it before, it's "probably them." Basically, anyone who doesn't view their friends as comparative competition is the ugly fat one. OK then.
This isn't even touching on the idea that a guy can call a girl "the ugly fat friend," and she'll not only believe him, but offer him homework help so that he'll fix her ugly fat-ness. And that this fixing inevitably involves some kind of makeover, and her then falling for him despite the fact the he called her ugly and made her feel terribly insecure.
And even that self-affirming feel-good twist comes from the lips of that guy in the trailer. "You need to realize that you're only as awesome as you think you are," he says, suggesting that protagonist never needed to change in the first place. The protagonist isn't realizing this herself and telling him to get lost, of course. She never doubted herself in the first place until he told her she was the "ugly fat friend." He gets to make her feel terrible and insecure, and then he takes the insecurity away with a few more of his all-important, protagonist-judging words.
Also, apparently you can't think you're awesome while "dressing like Wreck It Ralph." Funny, I don't remember the makeover scene in his movie of self-discovery.
The thing is, this looks like it might be a fun movie. But does it have to rehash the old "not good enough unless a guy gives you approval" tropes? And does it really have to project its "every group of friends has a fatter, less-attractive one" onto its audience?