It is better than excellent recent contributions to the genre: Mean Girls, Easy A, The To Do List, the tv show Awkward.
It is better than the nineties and early aughts contributions: 10 Things I Hate About You, She’s All That, How to Deal.
It is not better than Clueless, nothing is better than Clueless.
But here is why it is a genuine new classic of this genre, a genre that I care about deeply.
Playing with the old Breakfast Club framework that nobody in highschool is only their label (and yet, is still kind of their label), the Duff explores the new landscape of types that define high school life. It is familiar, but different, and the fact that I (as an old person) can’t really locate myself in this environment seems like proof of its freshness. But the real strength is that all of these types transcend caricature in the Duff. Even the mean girl is not mean because she is evil, she is mean because she is so narcissistic that anyone garnering attention messes up the future of her Brand.
But you don’t come to these movies for their authentic approach to technology and adolescent social dynamics, you come to these movies for their ability to make you squeel, laugh, and cheer. I saw this movie in a theater full of Brooklyn tweens and I can attest that I was not the only one audibly squeeling, laughing and cheering. The audience of tweens literally clapped at one point.
This is because the romance at the center of the movie actually has chemistry. Mae Whitman and the Hunk spar like they are in the Gilmore Girls. The Hunk is stupid (cause he’s a jock), but not dumb. And the reasons they can’t get together until the end are not because of missed connections, revelations of cruel pranks, or the jock being embarrassed of the duff. They about actual limitations of these people’s personalities. Adult romantic comedies could learn a thing or two from The Duff.
This movie also does not loose its dignity in the third act (also known as the Prom in highschool comedy vocabulary). Justice wins, but not at the expense of feminism.