Friday 17 April 2015

The Importance of Bianca Piper

From the film I was so ready to hate - why 'The Duff's Bianca Piper is the hero we all need

Okay, I know it's a bit odd for me to be doing a film review, and no, this post is in no way sponsored or endorsed, but I've just come out of the cinema with what fills like a trapped yawn of affection and hope and empowerment soaring inside my chest, and I'll be damned if I ain't gonna write about it. 

When I first saw the trailers for 'The Duff', I couldn't help but roll my eyes. 

Gee what a surprise, a teen Hollywood movie about the All-American High School stereotype trying to emulate the success of Mean Girls circa 2004. 

But the 'Designated Ugly Fat Friend' tag ignited a small outraged fire within me, and I had to satisfy my curiosity. Never would I have expected to find myself sat on the edge of my seat, hands pressed to my chest, gazing up in awe and genuine affection, staggered at my own emotional investment within this movie. 

Because *that's* the cincher. This movie is for everybody. Because this movie is everybody. 

And that is solely why it's so important. 

One of  the beauties of 'The Duff' is that it takes these ingrained stereotypes we see repeatedly in fiction - which, in reality are pretty far removed from any high schooler/secondary schoolers experience of school is actually like - but instead of abolishing them or trying to make them more realistic, they keep the almost cartoon-like archetypal characters, then slap bam right in the middle put a dry, sarcastic and almost incomprehensibly real protagonist, Bianca. 

Then you suddenly realise this isn't another shitty generic film about tall, beautiful and impeccably toned high school kids, this was borderline satire, mocking everything those movies perpetuated whilst still, kinda, being one.

It's like if Tumblr made a movie. 

And my god did it work.

Mae Whitman played Bianca with such startling realism and authenticity it was as though all her lines were simply improvised on the spot and her actions ad-libbed, allowing the audience a direct passage into her experience as a genuine relatable human amongst the rigid, cheesy-lined, eye-rollingly predictable 'characters' she was surrounded by. It was a unique perspective and both my date and I found ourselves equally engrossed and captivated by her, as if we were watching a documentary.

Because while everything about this movie was a movie, up there in the lead was one of us.

And yeah, the plot was corny and tackled 21st century issues like social media and virality in a way which won't age well, it was massively predictable and it's climax centered on the classic final-night-of-senior-year-make-or-break-homecoming-dance paradigm, but the amazing thing was, in this film, none of that was a bad thing. 

Because I don't think I've ever experienced myself rooting so hard for a fictional character in my life. 

So many works of fiction try and nail the feisty yet relatable female protagonist character, but none seem to quite get it. They either come off as just rude, cringey and patronising to the reader, tomboyish and wild (UNTIL THEY CLEAN UP THAT ONE TIME AND HOLY SHIT THEY WERE SECRETLY A SUPERMODEL UNDERNEATH), cold (BUT JUST NEEDING THAT ONE PERSON TO BREAK THROUGH THEIR ICY FACADE), troubled-in-a-way-that-shouldn't-be-idolised or they just take themselves too damned seriously. 

But Bianca isn't a character at all. 

She is our best friends, our sisters and she is us - the us we are when no-one's looking, or we're comfortable around our own kind that we don't have to pretend that we're not actually super weird.

And that's what makes her message so important. 


We'd all be lying if we said we'd never felt inferior to someone else, whether it be because you feel they're prettier, they have nicer clothes, they are more talented at something, they have a better blog or more readers, or maybe even because they're nicer - it's a natural human trait.

But this is the first time in mainstream media I have ever seen something so successfully highlight that YOUR HAPPINESS DOES NOT HAVE TO DEPEND ON HOW MUCH BETTER PEOPLE THINK YOU ARE THAN OTHER PEOPLE. 

And here's the real kicker - a character explaining this message whilst simultaneously not shitting on the other characters who seem to genuinely care and thrive off of that stuff. Bianca effectively says 'if that's the way you function and want to live your life then okay, fair enough. But I don't want to be a part of that so stop dragging me into it too. I'm happy doing my own thing.'

And that almost tipped me over the edge. 

People in our screen were genuinely whooping and cheering and putting their hands in the air and I myself even forgot that we had to abide by being-in-a-public-place etiquette and found myself yelling 'OH YES SHE DID' along with the rest.

Yes, perhaps we've seen these kind of self-love messages before in the likes of Glee, New Girl and Pitch Perfect, but I've never felt such a seamless connection with a character that truly conveys a lasting message before, and the target demographic of  this film was what excited me more than anything.

Because while for the others I left feeling it was a great film or episode I'd just watched, every person in our screen - people of all genders, ages and backgrounds - came bounding out of the screen in a highly-strung gaggle of laughter and chatter, and my date even turned to me and said "I feel like I just wanna like run around you know, I feel like I can do anything."

And with an excited smile I felt my heart swelling with joy at the notion of millions of others around the globe watching this film and dancing out of their seats after feeling like they're a little bit more awesome than they ever thought they could be.