Synopsis: Bianca (Mae Whitman) is a content high school senior whose world is shattered when she learns the student body knows her as ‘The DUFF’ (Designated Ugly Fat Friend) to her prettier, more popular friends (Skyler Samuels & Bianca Santos). Now, despite the words of caution from her favorite teacher (Ken Jeong), she puts aside the potential distraction of her crush, Toby (Nick Eversman), and enlists Wesley (Robbie Amell), a slick but charming jock, to help reinvent herself. To save her senior year from turning into a total disaster, Bianca must find the confidence to overthrow the school’s ruthless label maker Madison (Bella Thorne) and remind everyone that no matter what people look or act like, we are all someone’s DUFF.
Release Date: February 20, 2015 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Every few years a teen comedy comes around that tries to be the next Breakfast Club or Mean Girls – an insightful look at the modern dynamics of the high school teenager. But for every successful film, there’s even more that stumble for one reason or another. The DUFF stumbles, and it does so despite a generally intriguing concept.
The titular DUFF concept proposes that every group of friends has a D.U.F.F., or designated ugly fat friend. Now, these undesirable friends don’t have to actually be ugly or fat, but their general purpose is to make the prettier girls in the group look more attractive, or to act as the approachable barrier between hot friend and the interested party. So, when Bianca (Mae Whitman from “Parenthood”) realizes she is The D.U.F.F. among her group of friends, she decides to break free from the stigma surrounding the term and her reputation in school. As you might expect, that involves a makeover, several forced sections featuring her “training” – in this case by the captain of the football team Wesley (Robbie Amell), who just happens to be Bianca’s childhood friend – and an eventual Homecoming scene, because that’s the formula, right?
While the DUFF idea on its face is a clever one and works well to jumpstart the plot of the movie, the remainder of the script is formulaic in every sense of the word. At times the film tries to be clever by pointing out (through Bianca’s narration) that it’s subverting expectations, but for the most part it follows a very predictable path. And even when the film does try to throw a few curveballs the audience’s way, they are motivated by a desire to be a original, and most of those scenes barely fit within the established tone of the movie.
For that matter, while the film is predicated on the idea that Bianca is the DUFF to two popular high school girls, it never shows why these three are actually friends in the first place. It tells us that modern high school dynamics have changed so that now the smart kids can also be the popular kids, but we never get a clear understanding of what actual connection Bianca shares with her two friends. She’s their DUFF simply because that’s what the formula requires she be.
That being said, Mae Whitman and Robbie Amell turn in solid performances as Bianca and Wesley. They’re likable enough leads and show enough charisma to prove they’re trying, but the material is so cliche and uninteresting you actually feel bad for them. Whitman juggles charm with humor, emotion with drama, and yet she’s forced to provide the overarching narration that’s unbearably on the nose. Yes, we get that the film is supposed to be about breaking roles, but there’s no need to point that out at every turn.
The DUFF is a poor man’s Mean Girls. It’s a failed attempt at providing an insightful look at modern high school dynamics that follows a derivative path towards an obvious conclusion. What was great about the teen comedies of old was that they dared to be different; they presented a recognizable slice of life that was slightly skewed and made more interesting by its unique perspective. The DUFF is no such film. It’s a teen comedy that plenty of young girls will eat up, but only out of ignorance. There are far better and successful versions of The DUFF story; seek those out if you can.
Aside from the performances of its leads, The DUFF does hold some merit for its comedy. It’s not particularly original, but the fact that it generates a few laughs is worth pointing out. Many of those laughs come from peripheral characters, like Romany Malco’s Principal Buchanon and Chris Wylde’s Mr. Filmore. It’s as if the adults of the film, and when we say adults we mean the actors playing adults, are having a little too much fun trying to give The DUFF a little extra life. And for the most part they succeed. Will the film have the theater roaring with laughter? Probably not, but it’s not a complete bore either.
Cast and Crew
- Director(s): Ari Sandel
- Screenwriter(s): Josh A Cagan
- Cast: Mae Whitman (Bianca)Robbie Amell (Wesley)Bella Thorne (Madison) Bianca A. Santos (Casey)Skyler Samuels (Jess)
- Editor(s): Wendy Greene Bricomont
- Cinematographer: David Hennings
- Production Designer(s):
- Costume Designer:
- Casting Director(s):
- Music Score: Dominic Lewis
- Music Performed By:
- Country Of Origin: USA