THE DUFF (USA/15A/101mins)

Directed by Ari Sandel. Starring Mae Whitman, Robbie Amell, Bella Thorne, Bianca A. Santos, Allison Janney, Ken Jeong.

THE PLOT: After she discovers the concept of the DUFF – Designated Ugly Fat Friend – Bianca (Mae Whitman) believes that she is the DUFF of her social circle. Out to change people’s perception of her, Bianca joins forces with Wesley (Robbie Amell), her popular next-door neighbour to learn how she can shake off the label.

THE VERDICT: The DUFF sets out to join the ranks of great teen comedies – even going so far as to reference The Breakfast Club in the opening minutes – but following in the footsteps of EASY A, MEAN GIRLS and 10 THINGS I HATE ABOUT YOU leaves THE DUFF at a slight disadvantage, even though it is a charming film.

Mae Whitman, with her performance in THE DUFF, proves that she is leading lady material, making Bianca not only likeable, but relatable and funny. Whitman has great comedic timing and happily throws herself into the character. Robbie Amell has nice chemistry with Whitman, and although he is playing a familiar character, he does it well. Bella Throne takes on the mean girl role of Madison, but doesn’t quite make her mean enough for the film to work, in actual fact, most of the dirty work is done by Madison’s weaker friend. The rest of the cast is made up of Ken Jeong, Romany Malco and Allison Janney.

The story is loosely based on Kody Keplinger’s novel of the same name, but deviates from the book after the opening act. Instead, the film follows a similar story arc to EASY A, but never reaches the highs and lows of Will Gluck’s film. Following such a familiar and beloved film’s arc takes some of the shine off THE DUFF, as does pairing Bianca with Wesley; the two are teen enemies, but were friends as children, so it is easy to see that the enmity will drop, and where the film will end up. That said, the dialogue is amusing, and there is enough charm in the film to keep it engaging.

Ari Sandel directs well, drawing a strong performance from Mae Whitman, but none of the other cast members seem to be up to her level; perhaps they are underwritten, but the mean girl is never that mean, the quirky mom is only given one schtick and the jock friend is never really that much of a jock. The film is well paced, however, and even though the central concept falls away somewhere in the middle of the film, Sandel wisely focuses on Whitman to keep the film moving.

In all, THE DUFF is not quite up there with the classic teen comedies, but there are plenty of giggles to be had, some nice references to John Hughes and BLACKADDER, and Mae Whitman proves that she is more than capable of carrying a film as a lead actress. It’s just a shame that THE DUFF so closely follows the arc of EASY A, which makes it hard to shake off the feeling that we have seen this before.

RATING: 3/5

Review by Brogen Hayes

The DUFF
Review by Brogen Hayes
3.0Charming & Engaging
  • filmbuff2011

    Teen high school comedy The DUFF aims for the heights of modern classics like Heathers, but lands somewhere around the dimly-remembered She’s All That. Bianca (Mae Whitman) isn’t the popular girl in her cliquey high school. She loves cult horror movies (bonus points to the filmmakers for referencing Lucio Fulci) and dresses for comfort rather than trying to make a fashion statement. She’s the ‘other one’ who hangs around her better-looking and more popular friends Casey (Bianca A. Santos) and Jess (Skyler Samuels). Popular guy friend Wesley (Robbie Amell) tells her as much, when he says that she’s a DUFF – a designated ugly fat friend. The type who’s accessible for guys looking to climb up the high school social pecking order. He teaches her how to go on a date, something useful as she’s set her sights on Toby (Nick Eversman). But Bianca just needs to be herself… Based on the book by Kody Keplinger, The DUFF has just enough charm and kooky humour to make it watchable. It helps to have an actress who is instantly likeable like Whitman, who has certainly grown up since playing Bill Pullman’s daughter in Independence Day. She’s funny while still keeping Bianca real and attractive in her own particular way. Bianca is neither fat nor ugly – the DUFF is just another label being bandied about high school. Unfortunately, director Ari Sandel feels the need to go down the same route as She’s All That. All a DUFF needs is an unremarkable makeover – and hey presto, everyone is looking at her at the homecoming party. A safe, predictable ending follows which is disappointing. There was enough sparkiness and independence in Bianca to not need something like that. The DUFF is good fun while it lasts, but the search for Heathers for the Facebook generation continues. Warning: contains Ken Jeong, though thankfully not too much. ***

  • emerb

    “The Duff” is a hilarious and charming high school comedy about a teenage girl who suffers a crisis when she realises she is the DUFF (Designated Ugly Fat Friend). Based on the 2010 YA novel by Kody Keplinger, the movie gives a modernized makeover to the classical scenario of an outcast who tries to fit in, with the help of a good looking mentor. At the outset, you probably know where the film is going but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the witty dialogue, appealing cast and the funny send up of social medial as the homecoming dance approaches.
    The movie opens with a voice over from our heroine, Bianca (Mae Whitman). She is part of a trio – kind aspiring designer Jess (Skyler Samuels) and vivacious athlete Casey (Bianca Santos). While self-aware and confident enough to be willing to be the less noticeable quirky one (note her penchant for old Japanese horror movies, big shapeless overalls, branded t shirts, ugly crocs and love of burping), when her hunky football captain neighbour, Wesley (Robbie Arnell) bluntly informs her she is the DUFF – the approachable yet insignificant one who provides a means of approachable access to her hot, intimidating pals, her world
    turns upside down. Suddenly she notices that, standing next to her friends
    makes her invisible, not just to her fellow students, but also to teachers and shop assistants. She is no more than the dorky third wheel. This revelation sends her into a tailspin and inspires her to take action and rebel. Her world has been upended and she finds herself in an identity crisis so she abruptly cuts off all contact with her friends in a bid to start anew and finally go after her longtime crush Toby (Nick Eversman), a guitar player with a mop of wavy blond hair. She enlists Wes and they agree a deal whereby she will help him pass his exams in return for her getting a life makeover. This leads to an amusing montage of trying on outfits (and ridiculous dancing) that’s surreptitiously videotaped by a pal of the nasty, preening ex-girlfriend of Wes, Madison (a sharply icy Bella Thorne). Madison’s suspects they are getting too friendly and her objection to this is that she doesn’t want a guy she dated linked romantically with a DUFF, and so she humiliates her rival by nastily editing the video, which quickly goes viral. There is no doubt as to where the tricky love triangle will go but there are
    some pleasant surprises along the way.
    Mae Whitman nails it here and reveals herself to be one of the most endearing and funniest female actresses of the moment. Her radiance owns the film, being at once offbeat, sassy, weirdly quirky yet utterly adorable. She displays flawless comic timing and can deliver slick slapstick asides and goofy comedy in an instant. Her delivery, reaction and facial expressions ensure that she shines in the central role, switching from sincerity to sarcasm in the blink of an eye. I was impressed with how she deftly handles teen vulnerability and the way self-confidence can be shaken by peer-group ridicule. She also has a real sparky chemistry with hunky Robbie Arnell and they are a superb comic duo. He is impossibly good looking but he’s also gentle and honest and his makeover is mostly about building Bianca’s self-belief and courage when dealing with boys.
    He could have been a vapid, dim-witted jock but his character is more developed
    than that and he brings a sweetness and humour to the role. In fact, Mae has a superb chemistry with all of the characters, including her journalism teacher, played by Ken Jeong and her kind but inattentive divorcee mother, a typically pitch-perfect Alison Janney, who was inspired to become a self-help guru after watching an episode of The Simpsons. The performances from entire supporting cast are terrific and consistently funnier than you would expect.
    This film feels fresh, canny and clever in equal measure and one of the keys to its success is that it never takes itself too seriously. The entire premise of the story – sheer horror at being branded a DUFF- is handled with such shrewd wit and sensitivity that it is impossible not to warm to its charm and heart. It is endlessly quotable, well paced and even downright hilarious in parts. Much of the story plays out over social media, including Snapchat and YouTube, while texting also acts as a plot device. The screen is peppered with texts, twitter hashtags, Instagram labels and other graphics which highlights how social media is such an integral part of teen social interaction. The Duff is a pure feel good flick, the appeal is by no means limited to teenagers -we can all enjoy the journey. At some stage in life, we all feel like a DUFF. I have no doubt in my mind that “The DUFF” is the new “Mean Girls” which we will be watching again and again in years to come. – watch this space.