US Release Date: 02-20-2015
Directed by: Ari Sandel
- Mae Whitman, as
- Robbie Amell, as
- Bella Thorne, as
- Bianca A. Santos, as
- Skyler Samuels, as
- Romany Malco, as
- Principal Buchanon
- Nick Eversman, as
- Chris Wylde, as
- Mr. Filmore
- Ken Jeong, as
- Mr. Arthur
- Allison Janney as
Robbie Amell and Mae Whitman in The DUFF
The Duff wants very much to be a relevant teen film but the familiarity of the plot does not help. It begins with a narration that names different high school cliques in a direct nod to The Breakfast Club (1985). The plot is most obviously similar to She’s All That (1999) yet it still works, somewhat.
Bianca and Wesley grew up next door to each other, developing a brother sister type relationship. Their bedroom windows even look into each other’s. He grew up to be the buff popular jock, with Bianca nicknaming him “man whore.” Bianca grew up to be The DUFF (Designated Ugly Fat Friend). Although my first thought was that Mae Whitman, as Bianca, is neither ugly nor fat, it is later explained by Wesley (Robbie Amell) that the name is more of a generalization than an exact description. He informs her that the role of The DUFF is to provide information and possible access to their more attractive friends. To illustrate, Wesley asks Bianca how many times a day do people ask her about her two good looking best friends.
After coming to the realization of her social standing, Bianca breaks up with her two hot friends in a scene that truly dates this movie. They de-friend each other on more social media outlets than I even knew existed. She decides to make a deal with Wesley, that she will help him pass science if he will help her get a date with the guitar playing boy of her dreams. Meanwhile, every move Bianca makes seems to be made difficult by Madison, the popular bitchy girl. Yeah, you just knew The Mean Girl cliché was going to be here too.
There were two things I was sure of while watching this film. The first was that Bianca and Wesley would fall in love and the second was that there would be a scene where Bianca would descend some stairs or enter a room, looking hotter than anyone could believe. My first assumption proved true while my second was refreshingly not.
It is in that scene that The DUFF has its best moment. Bianca goes to homecoming dressed up to look good but truly not any better than she did before. She walks proudly into the room carrying herself with confidence but not because she is dressed to kill but because she now understands who she is and has embraced it. She proudly tells Madison that everyone is someone's DUFF. Hey, I never said the movie was deep but I liked how instead of having the ugly girl do a Cinderella act, she learns to love herself for who she is.
Although this is normally Scott's complaint, I will mention it for him. Amell and Whitman were both born in 1988, making them some eight years too old to be in high school. At one point, Whitman makes a joke about her dating a 30 year old and Amell remarks for her to enjoy his saggy balls. Perhaps that was an in joke that Amell is closer to 30 than 18.
Speaking of Amell, I could not stop thinking of Freddie Prinze Jr. They look a bit alike, this film is almost a remake of She’s All That and both brunette actors played blonde Freddie in a Scooby Doo movie. Whereas Prinze had a famous father, Amell has a famous cousin, Stephen, the star of television’s "Arrow."
Mae Whitman in The Duff.
Considering how far I am from this film's target audience, it's to its credit that I still enjoyed it as much as I did. Despite the unfortunate title and predictability of its plot, it manages to wring quite a bit of charm out of its cliches and stereotypes. This is due in no small part to its very likable leads, but also to a warm and amusing script.
As Eric said, the cast is played by actors closer to 30 than high school age, but it didn't bother me quite so much this time, because they work so well together. Mae Whitman is terrific in the lead role and I had the same reaction as Eric to her appearance. Only in Hollywood, I thought, would she be considered fat or ugly. She's funny and charming and easily anchors the movie. Robbie Amell was a bit of a surprise. While this is hardly a difficult part to play, he plays it well and is more than just a six pack of abs. He and Whitman share a nice comic chemistry and their character's relationship seems based on genuine affection for each other and the reasons for their falling for each other are evident instead of, as is the case in too many romantic comedies, simply stated.
The rest of the cast is also quite good. Bella Thorne as Madison is the film's weakest link, but not because of the actress. Her character of the bitchy, popular girl never rings true and in a movie that features a plethora of high school movie cliches, she is the biggest cliche of all. She's every bit the inferior rip-off of Mean Girls that Eric indicated. The cast of teachers are well played and provide a few laughs in the background as they try to come to grips with the added complications that social media brings to high school relationships. Although I didn't notice it as I was watching it, all of them are named after former U.S. Presidents.
One weakness of the film is that by focusing so heavily on Bianca's romantic relationships, it short changes what could have been an interesting exploration of her friendship with her two more popular friends. Bianca reacts badly when she discovers her social standing and rejects her friends, but later their friendship is repaired with a simply apology with never a serious discussion about what happened. A heavier emphasis on Bianca's friendships would have been more original than yet another teen romance.
There have been many classic high school movies, several of which are referenced here. Maybe The Duff doesn't reach classic status, mainly because it leans too heavily on what came before instead of forging its own path, but it certainly manages to entertain in its own way.
Photos © Copyright CBS Films (2015)