Talking Movies

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Thursday, 16 July 2015

Bajrangi Bhaijaan review: Salman Khan is so good as an innocent Hanuman bhakt, you'll be shocked

(This was first published on Firstpost)
When Salman Khan folds his hands in a namaste pose and says, “Jai Shree Ram” in Bajrangi Bhaijaan, he  takes his 'Being Human' image to the next level. He says these three words with such sincerity, that it actually shows him in the most unimaginable role : that of a fine actor.
Now why would a simple greeting would be termed as acting? Because this is no Aamir Khan with the Mr Holier-Than-Roast image or attitude. This is the Dabangg cop, who shakes his shoulders and cackles like a teenager after cracking crass jokes. Silly behaviour, along with a pair of glares, a moustache, a popular pelvic move and most importantly, his muscles ripping his shirt open — this is what has made Khan an unmatched superstar. No one has expected acting from Khan in years. Instead, his fans were more than happy to watch Khan simply being himself.
Then, with Kick, Khan took a step towards being human in a way that made him the new King Uncle. He continued to crack silly jokes and play the action hero. But, he also cried and he saved little children.
Director Kabir Khan has been sharp enough to spot the soft boy in the tough guy image and has given Khan a complete makeover as the innocent Hanuman bhakt who never lies. Raj Kumar Hirani made bad boy Sanjay Dutt a Munnabhai and the ambassador of Gandhigiri, but Kabir Khan’s Bajrangi may well be the one who takes Gandhi’s peaceful ways across Indo-Pak borders.And to give Kabir Khan credit, Bajrangi Bhaijaan far less preachy and more effective than PK.
Since truth is his policy, Pawan Kumar Chaturvedi aka Bajrangi (Salman Khan), tells every Pakistani man and soldier how he has crossed the border from under a tunnel hidden underneath the border gate. Fortunately for him, this earns him the title of ‘Bhaijaan’, from a Pakistani journalist, Chand Nawab (Nawazuddin Siddiqui).
Bajrangi never lies because he is a devotee of Hanuman.This means he takes selfies and dances around Hanuman’s statues in loose clothes that make him look like he has tucked into a dozen laddoos first. He doesn’t even bother with Salman Khan's trademark pelvic moves. He simply slaps his thigh and kicks up some gulaal, which gives cinematographer Aseem Mishra some great photographic moments. Lo and behold, our man is a hero.
At least the cute little girl staring at him believes in this hero, even though his RSS member dad called him a “zero”. She doesn't care that the 50-year-old actor is playing a schoolboy who continues to fail his 10th class.
So, the cute and mute girl, whom Bajrangi christens Munni (Harshaali Malhotra), happens to be a Pakistani, by the name of Shahida. (Cricketer Shahid Afridi has something to do with her name.) What we know about Shahida is that she was born mute and has a tendency to fall off cliffs, get miraculously saved by trees or jump off trains to save little lambs and land up on Indian soil. She needs a miracle to help her back to her sobbing mother, who is somewhere in Sultanpur.
Our Bajrangi, being Hanuman bhakt believes in miracles, but first, he must dilly-dally. How else can we see him win over Rasika (Kareena Kapoor, delightful with her kohl laden eyes), by calling her a “behenji”. He must express shock over little Munni gorging chicken legs. Why? Because he was happy assuming that she is a Brahmin going by her fair skin. The biggest shock to the Hanuman bhakt is when Munni runs into mosques to pray.
Behenji girlfriend rightly lectures him about not judging little children by their faiths. Toss in a couple of songs and Kapoor's role is over. It is now time for Bajrangi to become Bhaijaan.
So begins a walk across the border, which is more like a stroll in the park and what can only be described as child’s play over snow-clad peaks. There is some entertainment, thanks to Nawazuddin Siddiqui's comic act, which includes Siddiqui calling a burkha-clad Bajrangi his “begum”.
The two together make a great team. Instead of performing typical fight stunts, Khan cries and bows with hands folded. The whistle-and-clap moment comes when he finally changes from this greeting to a salaam.
Does this simple story bordering on the dumb with a simpleton character work? Strangely, yes. Thanks to Khan’s uncharacteristic convincing performance and intelligent direction by the Ek Tha Tiger director who seemed to have forgotten his craft after his first film, Kabul Express.
If Salman Khan and Kabir Khan were politicians, they would certainly win both the Hindu and Muslim vote banks. Prime Minister Modi, are you listening? If not, just watch the next hottest potential secular BJP candidate say in all humility, ”Jai Shri Ram”.
Oh and by the way, Khan keeps his shirt on.

Baahubali review: Forget story, watch Rajamouli's film for jaw-dropping VFX

Once upon a time, there lived a mother. Her hair was matted and grey. Her eyes were wild and bloodshot. Her chants were wild and hopeful. “Mera beta aayega…,” she kept saying, while shuffling around. Her feet were in thick chains for 25 years. It sounds a little bit like Karan Arjun, but this is SS Rajamouli’s Baahubali. And despite how clichéd some of its elements may be, this film is the work of South Indian cinema’s wildest imagination and it takes steps towards of mythic proportions in Indian fantasy.
Baahubali is about sheer, jaw-dropping, hypnotic spectacle. Released simultaneously in Hindi, Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam, the film’s budget is a whopping Rs 200 crores, making it the most expensive film made in India. Going by the sheer grandeur, it is little wonder that Karan Johar snapped up the Hindi version.
The hero’s real name is Shiva (Prabhas Raju). He has the strength to carry a huge Shiva lingam and to pull up a 450-foot tall, gold statue. He can dislodge huge boulders and use one as a luge when there’s an avalanche chasing him and his lady love. No wonder then that the greatest warrior of the land does a Michael Jackson-esque slide on his knees and bows before Shiva with a worshipful cry of “Baahubali!”
But first, Shiva must show off his awesomeness. So he makes the perilous climb up to the kingdom of Mahismati to woo Avanthika (Tamannaah). She is a vision in white. No, she is not Raj Kapoor’s Mandakini, but a wuxia-inspired heroine, beautifully framed in captivating shots under waterfalls. When Shiva does find her, she attacks him with a sword. This leads to a dance-like duel, which begins with him disrobing her and ends with her falling in love. Naturally.
But Shiva has more ordained for him than simply getting the girl. He doesn’t know this, but the old woman waiting for her son is actually his mother, Devasena (Anushka Shetty).Devasena is held captive by the well-oiled, evil king, Bhallala Dev(Rana Daggubati), whom she had once rejected and who just happens to be Shiva’s uncle. Bhallala delights in torturing Devasena. She collects wood for his pyre.
Initially, Baahubali works like a musical, setting Shiva and Avanthika’s romance in the most outlandish of lands and exotic sets. The real fun and action begins afterwards, when Shiva is told of his father, Amarendra Baahubali and the plot rewinds to a world of palace intrigue and war.
We see a majestic Sivagami refuse throne but rule like queen, while sitting on the regent’s seat with two babies suckling under her pallu. One is her own son, Bhallala. The other is Shiva’s father. Years roll on, the boys grow into well-matched, powerful princes. A ferocious tribal enemy attacks and a spectacular battle follows.
This is the point where you forget the story. It’s not weak, but it doesn’t really matter Watch Baahubali for the moves. The hero gets on a horse in the middle of a crowded battlefiend, the camera takes the shot up-close, and it’s VFX techno power at its most awesome. The soundtrack by M.M. Kreem, one of his finest, sets the mood and matches the soaring, balletic action movements.
Action, camera, VFX, sound – that’s Baahubali’s magic formula. Particularly during the war with the primitive and terrible Kalakeyas (for whom Rajamouli has concocted a new language. Take that Dothraki-fans), the technological sophistication is worth applause. The camera plays eagle to reveal an enormous aerial view of men on horses racing against men on feet. A stunning side angle shot of silver arrows in a line sets the ball rolling. The background score continues to add to the magical visual display.
And there are the haunting shots that Rajamouli weaves into his storytelling, like the sight of a headless body stumbling on a cliff, against a backdrop of apocalyptic thunderclouds.
But really, forget the story. In Baahubali, watch the moves.

I Love NY review: The film takes its own time to bore you and it's as bad as surviving surgery

Thank God, Kangana Ranaut has a sense of humour. She has reportedly joked about T-Series producer, Bhushan Kumar’s belief that the film I Love NY “nikal jayegi”. She said, “He is talking just like a doctor who tells a patient to close his or her eyes before giving him an injection, saying ‘nikal jayegi’.”
Well, one could easily keep the eyes shut during half of I Love NY without missing a thing.
Randhir Singh (Sunny Deol, let’s forget that he is 57 according to Wikipedia) has been leading the same boring life each day, as some kind of office executive (rather unclear in the film) in Chicago. The film opens to his voiceover explaining how bored he is and one day, for no reason, he decides to kick his daily, non-happening routine. No more working Sundays. Next to go: his “favourite coffee” (vanilla mocha, if you please). Now, why would anyone chuck anything that is their favourite? Only the writer/director duo, Radhika Rao and Vinay Sapru would know.
Rao and Sapru’s concept behind the film is decent, but unfortunately, it’s released two years too late. Made before Queen, this small film appears to be a refreshing change when released along with action-packed Bahubali. Unfortunately, the difference in tone isn’t enough to make up for how the story gets stretched to eternity.
Still, if you are a Sunny Deol fan, rather than a Ranaut fan, you may just stick it out. After all, it’s been a while since he was last seen on screen. It doesn’t matter that he and Ranaut are a miscast as a romantic pair. Deol tries his best to be subtle and plays it simple as Randhir.Randhir’s life may be routine, but it’s not boring. He has an entertaining dad (Prem Chopra) at home. He has a girlfriend, Riya (Tannishtha Chatterjee, another miscast) who wants to party a deux with him on New Year’s Eve. Mr. Bachelor decides he will finally pop the big question of marriage that night.
Before that, he goes to the gym and hangs out with his middle-aged friends. They sit around in towels in the steam room and get drunk to celebrate his impending matrimony. Deol even manages some cute jumping moves in the song, Gud Naal.
The bottle-happy guys drink so much that they end up sending Randhir to New York by mistake. Randhir ends up getting carried in trolleys and lands as a drunken heap on Tikku’s (Ranaut) bed. Apparently, he and Tikku have the same address -- in different cities.
As luck and screenplay would have it, Randhir’s home key can open Tikku’s lock! Who would believe this yarn? Certainly not Tikku’s boyfriend, Ishaan (Navin Chowdhry, of an irritating accent). Not when Randhir gets bolder by the hour as New Year’s Eve unfolds. To Ishaan’s chagrin, Randhir keeps coming back to the apartment and Tikku happily helps him.
All night, Ishaan and Randhir come and go, in and out of Tikku’s apartment, leaving her one confused and pretty mess in a pink saree and golden curls.
I Love NY takes its own sweet time coming to its predictable end, and you can only sit back and note irrelevant details — like Ranaut’s three costumes and debate over Deol wearing a wig, counting his age and wishing him more suitable roles. It is to their credit that both Ranaut and Deol give their unconvincing parts their own best.
Maybe, Mr Kumar is right. Film “nikal jayegi”. Just maybe.

Papanasam review: Kamal Haasan steals the show in this gritty remake of Malayalam film Drishyam

(This was first published on Firstpost)
There is a crime which is far from perfect. There is a family of an illiterate man, his loving wife and two young daughters trapped in the crime case.There is a hard as nails, a lady cop whose son is missing. And hell hath no fury than this khaki clad mother who believes the simple family to be responsible.
Two parents, two points of view and a single incident: this is potent stuff called Papanasam.
Jeetu Joseph,the writer and director of this Tamil remake of his own Malayalam super hit blockbuster, Drishyam;is clearly a mastermind at creating a plot centered around true lies
First he takes his time creating Suyambulingam’s (Kamal Haasan) little world. Every location shown and every character written, has significance.When you see it all coming together in the last shot, including the title’s relevance,the three plus hours spent, are most gratifying.
Suyam has a lovely house tucked away on a five acre plot in a small town called Papanasam in Tamil Nadu.The place is named after a river where people wash away their sins. Suyam is a simple, uneducated, self made businessman who runs a cable TV company. When he is not glued to the movies on his TV in his office, he visits a local restaurant for his daily tea. He inevitably crosses paths regularly, with a local corrupt cop. When home, he spends the most endearing time with his lovely wife, Raani (Gautami, also Haasan’s wife) and two daughters, Selvi (Niveda Thomas) and Meena (Esther Anil). When with them, he surrenders his miserly ways to their constant demands of shopping and outings.All is well until Selvi goes on a school trip.She meets Varun ( Roshan Basheer),the spoilt, bratty son of IG officer, Geetha Prabhakar (Asha Sarath).

What follows is a nightmare for this simple, close-knit family who by the first hour of the 
movie, has made a firm place in your heart. The story and screenplay turns more gripping
 with every single scene that followsA fierce link is established between the relentless lady cop,
 Geetha and Suyam’s family. Both are parents and will go to any length for their children. 
Watch this film just to see how far they will go, how clever each one is and how well every
 detail is weaved in;like a full blown Sherlock Holmes story. Though this is not a detective film
 or a mystery,it would be sacrilege to reveal anything more. While Haasan mesmerizes with his
 emotional big eyes and experienced performance, Asha Sarath as the tough cop with a mother’s nose for trouble, is explosive in her presence and dialogue delivery. Anant Mahadevan as her husband is adequately
Gautami as the simpleton wife and mother,suits the role. The fearful daughters played by
 Niveda and Esther, do complete justice to their pivotal roles in the script.
The film may be in Tamil but is likely to appeal equally to the Hindi cinegoer. Papanasam is a
great reminder of why we go to the movies: to be entertained and stay emotionally engaged.
Regional language should not keep you away, irrespective of upcoming Hindi remake,
Just remember,you might want a hot Molaga Podi(Idli gunpowder) recipe to come back home

Guddu Rangeela Review: The colourless Arshad Warsi film fails to strike a chord

Khap Panchayats and honour killings are scary. And so is Ronit Roy.
In Guddu Rangeela, Roy plays the Khap leader, Billu Pehalwan who makes parents shoot their adult children for daring to love someone outside their caste. If the families err, he kills young lovers himself with great relish. But when he is after one Rangeela (Arshad Warsi) who looks as old as Billu himself, it cuts no ice with the backdrop if you consider the inspiration – a real incident of honor killing involving the case of Manoj and Babli.
The film is based around quite a far-fetched idea. This well over 40 bridegroom, Rangeela, is running away with his young bride called Babli (Shriswara). So you see the two running across a bridge, hand in hand, while Billu stands with a rifle, taking aim. Babli gets shot. She stumbles and falls into the river below.
At this point, one should be weeping for the helpless, newly married couple. But it hardly makes any difference. A newspaper headline would be far more dramatic and effective. If Arnab Goswami were to highlight the incident on his show, you might even feel some outrage. But an entire two hour movie, written and directed by Subhash Kapoor, fails to move even for a minute.
NH10 did a far better job with a more realistic depiction of a young couple getting beaten up in the Haryana hinterland. Kapoor’s previous film, Jolly LLB, won a national award for the best feature film in Hindi and like Guddu Rangeela, had also been inspired by a real hit and run case of Sanjeev Nanda.
Babli’s death is simply a plot point used to make this film a revenge drama between Rangeela and Billu. Later, there is a twist which is completely over the top even by ‘filmy’ standards. There seems to be a parallel revenge tale of another girl called Baby (Aditi Rao Hydari). Baby first appears on screen as a dumb and deaf girl, kidnapped by Rangeela and his buddy Guddu (Amit Sadh of Kai Po Che fame). It's pretty evident that she is far from dumb. Baby is actually out to get her own personal revenge from Billu.
In between all the cat and mouse chase games in Shimla, Baby doesn’t mind sharing space with Guddu who is anything but a gentleman. His idea of romancing her is to ask her, ”degi?” Of course, she tells him to lay off. But once she warms up to him, he asks her again, “legi”? She actually smiles. Sadh is quite unsuitable for this role. Neither his looks or performance make him seem like a small time goon that he is. He cracks not so funny jokes and plays a khabri (informer) of robberies, while his partner in crime –Rangeela, dresses in garish costumes and sings at orchestras, with "maata ka email aaya hai”.
It takes a good half hour to establish the duo is caught between the corrupt cops and conniving paymasters. And quite honestly, the setup length adds more to boredom than to any authenticity.
The film then moves to familiar territory of the hero beating up the villain. The only difference is you don’t root for anyone, and the only good thing about the film is some decent acting by Warsi and Roy. Hydari and Sadh as a couple are quite redundant. Warsi, known for his comic flair, unfortunately does not have a single funny moment.
Meanwhile, the lack of any bro-mance chemistry between him and Sadh, makes the film even more dull. It's nothing like his previous pairing with Sanjay Dutt in Munnabhai MBBS or Naseeruddin Shah in Ishqiya.
It is finally left to Ronit Roy to maintain the tension and he does the villainous barking and glaring quite brilliantly. However, the actors’ brave efforts are not reason enough to watch the lackluster and colourless Guddu Rangeela. Arnab’s show is a better bet.

Labour of Love review: This powerful film transcends spoken languages and engages you

Technically, Labour of Love is a Bengali film. But actually, this debut film by Aditya Vikram Sengupta, transcends all spoken languages and makes a voyeuristic camera a powerful spokesperson.
Initially, the camera tests your patience. A very slow downward pan on a wall with credits rolling in, hints at the somber and calm mood of a long and silent narrative. It doesn’t care about the discomfort of silence.
The camera pauses on the most mundane sights: a melted soap cake, oil simmering in a pan, wet footprints until they dry. At one point, the frame is still on an entire sunset. But it is this very relentlessness of the camera and the director, which ultimately sucks you into a day of a life of a middle class couple.
What seems like just any day, unfolds into a story that shakes you with its deceptive slumberous approach. Deservedly, Labour of Love has won several festival awards, including one in Venice and New York.
A news announcement on a blank screen has informed us of a recession backdrop in Kolkata. Mill workers are on a protest march and their slogans heard off screen, are the only words spoken in the 84-minute film.
There are two pivotal characters in the film, and we are shown bits of their life.
The camera follows the back of a woman in a sari, as she walks fast through narrow spaces between building walls. The first sound heard after what feels like an eternity, is the sound of a tram. The woman reaches a busy road and takes the tram. The camera settles in on her face, as she looks out of the window. The play of sunlight catches her calm demeanor.
We do not know what she is thinking or feeling. She eats something, gets off the tram, crosses the road and takes a bus. Soon she is rushing through the corridors of a building where a bell rings, adding to the urgency of a workday at a leather handbag factory.
Simultaneously, in cross cuts, we see a man drink his tea in his home. He goes about the daily routine of taking a bath with limited water in a bucket and a broken, melted soap. After finishing certain other household activities of going out, buying some fish, encashing a small cheque at a bank, the man returns home and tries to sleep. It is at this point that a certain action displays the director’s eye for detail in the mundane.
The man realizes the fan is too fast and gets up to change the speed. Later when the woman is seen on the bed, also alone, she gets up to increase the fan’s speed.
This humdrum of a mundane life in a middle class household couldn’t be captured better. The transition of the day, shown by the smoothest shot of the woman coming up a staircase, displays great skill in direction.
Here's a couple caught in the drudgery of making a living at a time when the uncertainty of a job is driving people to suicides. Their deliberate calm exteriors, refusing to reveal the inner world, is evocative of millions of people who brave very challenge with quiet acceptance.
So you watch the man wake up at night and start his own. working day at a printing press; and the woman return and cook that meal which he eats when he is back.
Do they ever meet? Watch Labour of Love for its smooth unfolding into a beautiful and surreal ending, which makes the entire story unforgettable in a hard hitting reality of a couple’s life affected by a city’s economic crisis and social milieu.

Hamari Adhuri Kahani review: This film reduces Vidya Balan to a whimpering mess

O married lady, thy place is at thy lover’s feet,
Worshipping gratitude is thy virtue.
Who else doth uplift you bechari
But the rich boss swooning over your lilies?
Such is the undying faith expressed in the good Indian wife by Mahesh Bhatt, writer and producer of Hamari Adhuri Kahani(HAK) and self-professed woman’s lib advocate turned regressive preacher. In HAK, he has for company the Aashiqui 2 and Ek Villain director, Mohit Suri, and their regular dialogue writer, Shagufta Rafique. The trio’s conviction in a bygone century’s sacrificial feminine lambs and grateful tearjerkers results in in a ridiculous love story that attempts to be a tragedy, but ends up being an unintentional comedy.
How else can you explain or react to Vidya Balan falling at Emraan Hashmi’s feet, shedding tears of helpless gratitude?
The two actors were explosive as enemies in The Dirty Picture. A single night of not-so-dirty conversation between the two in that film was enough to establish them as a couple with promising chemistry. Hashmi proved he can act better than he can kiss. Balan was nicknamed “Vidya Khan” after her delightfully uninhibited “Ooh La La” act, which she followed up with an equally impressive performance in Kahaani.
It was inevitable that Balan and Hashmi would be paired again and both times, they’ve played husband and wife. Both times, it’s been disappointing. Ghanchakkar did not do them justice. In HAK, the perfect duo of The Dirty Picturecouldn’t be more imperfect to tell Bhatt’s parents’ real love story.
When the delightfully bold and supremely clever, pregnant wife from Kahani changes into Vasudha, a whimpering, mangalsutra-clutching wife, it’s nothing short of a casting blasphemy. It’s also a surefire way to kill every acting talent cell in the wonderful Balan, who is reduced to a whimpering mess. As Vasudha keeps palming her mangalsutra — as though doing so makes her a conscientious, dutiful wife with A-plus character certificate — you can’t help but remember Farah Khan’s famous “ek chutki sindoor…” spoof in Om Shanti Om. It was meant to be about the movies in the seventies, but could very much apply to HAK.
Vasudha marries Hari (Rajkummar Rao), who forces her to tattoo his name on her arm. Satisfied with that stamp, he disappears for five years, leaving Vasudha to bring up their son alone. She works as a florist at a five-star hotel owned by business tycoon, Aarav (Hashmi).
The smitten Aarav suddenly turns shy and expresses himself by asking her to send him selfies. The two romance amidst exotic flowers in greenhouses and exotic landscapes that fail to match Yash Chopra’s gorgeous tulip fields in Silsila. Along with the singing twosome, you too might wondering , “yeh kahan aa gaye hum….?” Both the selfies and the flowers repeatedly pop up until the mindblowing significance of the two is written into the oh-so-(not)-clever climax.
How can this flowery love story be without conflict? Of course, the missing husband turns up as a bearded terrorist hiding under a bed in his own house. Here’s a fine example of what a bad script and direction can do to perfectly good actors. Rao is at his worst playing this lunatic, jealous husband, looking like a homeless lunatic, mumbling silly lines and shaking his white-haired head like Shah Rukh Khan in Veer Zara.
HAK moves from Mumbai to Dubai and ends up in the deserted and dangerous roads of terrorist-ridden Bastar in Chattisgarh, which apparently is a dead ringer for South Africa. This is a journey of pain: the pain of watching the talented Balan struggling to justify a badly-written role; the pain of seeing the director of Arth stuck in a time warp and refusing to grow out of a poor-me syndrome; the pain of watching Bhatt kill the memorable Kahaani girl of Ooh La La land with the that mighty Indian weapon: the mangalsutra.

The Duff review: Seen-before teenage story of love that's still fun and charming

Labels stick. Labels suck. Labels crush. Jock, Geek, Rocker, Mean Girl. These are all passé. Here’s another: Designated Ugly, Fat Friend (DUFF). This, of course, is bestowed with typical teenage casual cruelty in the American high school. So, let’s play along with the mothers and grandmothers of teen clichés in The Duff, based on a novel by Kody Keplinger. It’s a seen-before-tale of teenage love — warts, pimples and all — but it turns out to be quite a fun sport.
Hot chicks in high school are either over-sweet (read: dumb) or shameless leggy, blonde bitches. The ugly and fat ones are smart and funny, but invisible. They were given polite terms like plain Janes in pre social networking era. Now, they are called ugly and fat outright, and are the butt of YouTube video pranks.
The same applies to the boys. The dumb studs with six packs fail their Chemistry papers, but are great at flirting in the labs. The cute, curly haired charmers play the guitar rock stars who break hearts with the flick of a guitar string.
A fairy godmother cannot help if you happen to be the best looking girls’ best friend in this unforgiving world of cyber bullies. You simply earn the label ‘DUFF”- the designated ugly fat friend.
So, whose cause will you champion? These are the teams:
The Duff: Bianca (Mae Whitman).
Her Hot Best Friends: Jess (Skyler Samuels) and Casey (Bianca Santos).
The Blonde Bitch: Madison (Bella Thorne).
The Dumb Stud: Wesley (Robbie Amell).
The Cute Rock Star: Toby Tucker (Nick Eversman).
The last name is quite aptly reminiscent of another teenage flick, John Tucker Must Die. Our DUFF, Bianca, is a horror film geek and has a massive crush on Tucker. She treats her next-door stud and Tom Cruise lookalike neighbour, Wesley, with the contempt of a lab student towards a cockroach. He points out (in the most friendly manner possible) that she is no less than invisible to those leching at her best friends, Jess and Casey. Bianca reacts by promptly “unfriending” the two on Facebook and every other social networking site: the ultimate insult in today’s world. The two pretties remain kind and forgiving. No drama there.
Then Bianca strikes a deal with Wesley. He can teach her a thing or two about shopping for the right pushup bra while she can share her Chemistry notes. The idea is to get her to gather courage to approach the cute guitarist, Tucker.
Meanwhile, the blonde bitch, Madison, has set her long lashed eyes on Wesley. His closeness to Bianca sets her plotting and scheming and makes her the queen witch of cyber bullydom. The conflict stage is set.
It’s a classic good friend and mean guy triangle. You get the drill. Yet, The Duff charms and disarms you with quick, snappy lines and adorable performances from one and all. A couple of friendly teachers (Korean and Black, for the diversity campaign) and a single mom (Allison Janney) on the dating prowl add a dash of contemporary humour.
You wish that the characters of Madison, Jess and Casey were fleshed out more than their cardboard looks. Their insecurities beneath their skin-deep beauty and the complications that follow in friendships had the makings of a great subplot left undefined. A deeper exploration of cyber bullying might have lent some real meaning to current high school scenarios.
Whitman sparkles and shines with her comic delivery. Her camaraderie with the very likeable Amell is enough to brighten a predictable script. The spirited students win The Duff an A, despite its lazy and easy treatment. So what if there is no one really fat or ugly here and we just have one more label?