The DUFF, starring Parenthood’s Mae Whitman opens this weekend. Watch the above trailer and swear it does not immediately recall a particular Freddie Prinze Jr. masterpiece from 1999. It’s all there: the cartoonishly cliquish high school setting, the vapid popular-girl automatons, the close-cropped dreamboat jock with zero adult priorities, and, of course, the diamond-in-the-rough brains and beauty thinly veiled behind a few unfortunate clothing options. (Apparently, overalls quash boners on sight.)
Back then, it seemed ridiculous that anyone would mistake Rachael Leigh Cook for anything but terribly attractive, bespectacled and paint-splattered as she was. Sadly, the same cannot be said for the 26-year-old Whitman, who, despite being adorable and manifestly charismatic, has been consistently cast in second position to some vaguely more traditionally appealing actress. Whitman’s role as “the duff” – designated ugly, fat friend – in this new film is only the most recent and egregious offense.
Whitman first appeared on the broken family comedy in 2004 as George Michael Bluth’s (Michael Cera) dumpy, forgettable teenage girlfriend Ann Veal. George Michael and Ann were almost pre-engaged, but as fans of the show know, the confused young man’s heart always truly belonged to his cousin Maeby, played by Alia Shawkat. In one episode, Ann nearly lost to Maeby in an “Inner Beauty Contest” even while Shawkat’s reprehensible character was wearing a prosthetic nose and pretending to be crippled. Adding insult to injury: As it turns out, Whitman was not the first actress to play Veal. That honor went to Alessandra Torresani, who, according to one internet commenter, “was just too hot to be playing a character that is supposed to be plain/bad looking.” Ouch.
Drag Me To Hell
The character of Christine Brown kicked ass as a cursed loan officer fighting for her soul in Sam Raimi’s horror thriller. Unfortunately, Brown was played by Alison Lohman, who, let’s face it, bears a considerable resemblance to Whitman. My bad.
Parenthood Whitman’s Amber Holt played second, self-destructive fiddle to her nearly perfect cousin Haddie Braverman (Sarah Ramos) right up until Haddie left for college. Amber’s struggles with work, drugs, and alcohol were a constant source of consternation and tears for her mother Sarah (Lauren Graham) throughout the shows seven seasons. (Devotees of primetime family drama can’t help but compare Whitman’s flawed Amber to Graham’s most famous TV daughter, the relatively angelic Rory Gilmore of Gilmore Girls.) The crushing highlight of the Haddie-Amber face-off was when Amber slept with Haddie’s high school boyfriend, cementing her place as the Braverman black sheep. When the show ended, Haddie had become a cool, blonde, collegiate lesbian, and Amber was a single mother estranged from the PTSD-stricken father of her newborn. More tears.
The Perks of Being A Wallflower
Despite rocking the funkier version of Emma Watson’s pixie haircut in this sentimental tale of four high school misfits, Mae Whitman barely makes an appearance in the trailer. Maybe one day, when she finally moves on to playing a college student full-time, Whitman will be able to reinvent herself.
Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World
It’s Team Ramona or Team Knives. Mae Whitman is neither of the titular main character’s love interests in Edgar Wright’s teen action cult classic. Hell, she’s not even the under-appreciated girl in his band. But, while the scorned Roxy Richter does ultimately take a beating from her former lover Ramona, Whitman’s character does get to utter was is quite possibly the funniest line in a movie packed with memorably ludicrous dialogue. She also makes, not one, but two spectacular entrances. File under small victories.