(Scored out of ten; below 5 = not worth seeing, 6 = OK, 7 = good, 8 = great, 9 = fantastic, 10 = next to perfect)
The Duff follows a pretty standard game plan. Anyone who has seen a high school centric film knows exactly where the plot is going. But thanks to two fantastic leads and an irresistible charm, The Duff walks the line between becoming a classic teen drama or simply a good one.
Ever since she could remember, Bianca Piper (Mae Whitman) has gone through life with the help of her two best friends (Casey and Jess played by Bianca Santos and Skyler Samuels). Opting to embrace her quirks and dismiss notions of conformity to ridiculous high school standards, Piper lives a happy, carefree life. Until her childhood friend and neighbor, Wesley Rush (Robbie Amell), points out that she is a DUFF (Designated Ugly Fat Friend). She then proceeds to question her choice of friends and, in a bid to win the love of her uber-crush (Toby), enlists the aid of the not so subtle Wesley to de-DUFF her and reinvent her persona. Along the way, Piper becomes more and more fixated on meeting other people’s expectations, resulting in a battle for identity and what it truly means to be yourself.
As mentioned previously, The DUFF’s story is pretty by the numbers. Thankfully, Robbie Amell and Mae Whitman elevate the material beyond the archetypal high school drama to a point where it is genuinely funny and often thought provoking. On her own, Whitman does a more than serviceable job carrying the film. She is funny, personable and witty amidst a cast of blonde could-be supermodels, proving that her female empowerment agenda spreads to more than just her character in the film. Her best moments, and the film’s in general, come when paired up with Amell’s insanely personable and charming take on the stereotypical jock.
The two have phenomenal chemistry that keeps The DUFF from ever getting boring or treading to deeply into cliché story telling. Amell steals almost every scene he is in, managing to imbue even the most juvenile of lines (midget penis jokes included) with a sense of fun and charisma strangely absent from a number of young actors these days. His performance here, coupled with his regular occurrences on The Flash are positioning Amell as a standout actor that is poised to take Hollywood by storm. In an admittedly robust cast, Amell and Whitman take what could have amounted to one-note cookie cutter characters and create nuanced and complex people that will surely inspire young audiences for some time.
The rest of the cast doesn’t get nearly as much time in the spotlight but still manage to add interesting pieces to the overall puzzle. Ken Jeong (The Hangover) takes a turn as a high school teacher. His usual over the top antics are left elsewhere but he still susses a few good chuckles out of viewers (his dad joke being one of the best). Belle Thorne, who plays the “bitch prom queen”, can be a bit one-dimensional but given the context of her role and the message being conveyed, she does a great job with it. Santos and Samuels vanish from the film for a good portion of the proceedings but do offer a helping hand when needed and help support The DUFF’s main themes.
What begins as a straightforward empowerment tale weaves in and out of a classic romance while providing a plethora of pop culture jokes and references that are sure to make any of this current generation LOL. While this approach works now, it sacrifices any longevity the film could have (I sure hope SnapChat isn’t a thing years from now). By pandering to the current crop of teenage moviegoers, anyone interested in watching the film down the road will be privy to a number of dated one-liners with little to no relevance. This may be the one thing that keeps the film from joining other teen classics (Superbad, 10 Things I Hate About You).
While The DUFF won’t win any awards for originality, its combination of timeliness, charm and heart make for a deeply relatable high school romp that will undoubtedly satisfy. Mae Whitman and Robbie Amell prove themselves capable of leading an ensemble and prop what could otherwise be a considered a tired film to greater heights. In a culture that puts so much stock in social perception, The DUFF offers a timely narrative about the trials and tribulations of a high school student that is sure to mirror most viewers’ experiences.
Overall I give this film a 7.5/10