UK Release Date: 6th April 2015
Runtime: 101 minutes
Director: Ari Sandel
Writer: Josh A Cagan
Starring: Mae Whitman, Robbie Amell, Skyler Samuels, Bianca A Santos, Bella Thorne, Nick Eversman, Allison Janney, Ken Jeong
Synopsis: When a young girl learns that she is the unspoken “designated ugly fat friend” of her group, she seeks to change the impression of her.
The teen movie is a massive genre, which has spanned most of modern cinema. There are plenty of good, and bad, high school films, with the likes of Grease and Mean Girls towering over the less imaginative outings. Speaking of which, The DUFF – which stands for the ridiculous “designated ugly fat friend” – is a misfire that is almost masked by its likeable protagonist.
Bianca (Mae Whitman) is spending her senior year with best friends Jess (Skyler Samuels) and Casey (Bianca A Santos). Her neighbour Wesley (Robbie Amell) informs her that she is the DUFF of her group. As campus mean girl Madison (Bella Thorne) steps up her campaign of abuse, Mae enlists Wesley to teach her how to shed her DUFF persona and become one of the gang.
The central issue with The DUFF is that it immediately starts off on the back foot as a result of its central conceit. It is saddled with an offensive concept and is therefore forced to spend the entire film justifying it, which is something that it never quite manages to do.
| "You got the easy part. I have to reverse-DUFF you."
There is a saving grace though in the shape of the film’s incredibly likeable protagonist. Mae Whitman does a great job of portraying the slightly quirky Bianca, bringing real energy to a film in which everyone else seems to be on auto-pilot. This is particularly the case for Ken Jeong and Allison Janney, who appear to be simply going through the distinctly unfunny motions.
It’s a film in which we spend a lot of time with characters without ever getting to know them. Bella Thorne’s ‘Queen Bee’ never gets the character development of Regina George and, as a result, comes across as an inhuman villain rather than an identifiable school bully. The same is true of Wesley, who never feels fleshed out beyond the “sensitive jock” archetype that the teen movie genre has traded in for years.
Crucially, The DUFF never packs in the wit that it needs. Much of the humour seems tailored less on wry observation and more on cramming in as many social networking website names as possible. It’s a film so desperate to feel timely and generational that it forgets that these stories need characters in order to make a long-term impact. Across the board, it’s trying too hard and it often feels grating as a result. Like a slightly nerdy high school kid, this film wants to sit at the cool table for lunch.
| "People like you will never matter here."
It doesn’t help that, outside of a few inventive social media gags, the plot of The DUFF is as conventional as they come. It’s obvious from the first act where the finale is heading and there are very few narrative surprises along the way. Were it not for Whitman, there would be almost nothing in the way of spark on the screen.
The DUFF tries really hard to make friends with the cool kids, but it’s more likely to get thrown into a locker.
Pop or Poop?
Despite a witty and affecting central performance from Mae Whitman, The DUFF is a lacklustre attempt to make Mean Girls for the Facebook generation.
It never manages to overcome its mildly offensive premise and simply doesn’t have enough wit or heart to make its steadfast conventionality acceptable.
The DUFF gets an A for effort, but it doesn’t do enough to get a passing grade.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.