Director: Ari Sandel
Cast: Mae Whitman, Robbie Amell, Bella Thorne, Ken Jeong, Alison Janney, Skyler Samuels, Bianca A. Santos, Romany Malco
Plot: Bianca (Whitman) is a content high school student, until she realises she is only friends with her mates to make them seem more attraction by comparison.
The DUFF is perhaps the most modern high school stereotype, a perhaps constant in the cut-throat high school setting, but one that has only just been truly made an official term. Ari Sandel directs a movie that truly highlights the cliché, perhaps for the first time in cinema. The DUFF is essentially that one friend in a friendship group who is purposefully less attractive and charismatic, so their friends seems hotter when compared to the DUFF. The movie stretches the stereotype to include the trademark that a DUFF’s job is to filter courting attempts aimed at their friends, almost a barrier between the masses and their friends. In some ways, it is a worse stereotype than the ‘geek’ or ‘nerd’ figure, mainly because of the passive aggressiveness of it. The DUFF is worse than an unattractive person; it is a person whose job is to be unattractive, as if they have turned their ugly looks into something they are able to make a career of.
Essentially the premise of The DUFF is that high school sucks, filled with judgemental pricks. The sad thing is that the lead hero, Mae Whitman, probably stepping into her biggest role yet, is content at high school until she learns of these rumours whispered behind her back. It is difficult to really call Mae Whitman an unattractive person. She is less ugly and more unwilling to conform to the strict beauty regiments enforced by teenage expectations. Devoid of make-up, addicted to Bela Lugosi films and usually wearing a lazy day t-shirt, Whitman’s Bianca Piper simply treats school as a place to learn and hang out with her two super-model looking friends. She doesn’t even think of her own looks, until high school forces her to look in the mirror. A strong thing to consider in the DUFF is that all of the problems in this story are caused by what other people think, rather than Bianca’s own opinions. The sad note is that Bianca’s two pretty friends aren’t maliciously making her their DUFF. They are genuinely friends with Bianca and do not consider her the Designated Ugly Fat Friend; this is simply outside forces stereotyping her into the role. When Bianca falls out with her friends, there is a twinge of regret that the writers smartly include. High school rumours have a habit of poisoning lives, sometimes in the most innocent of places. Mae Whitman is a strong lead here, endearing through her sassy wit and ability to push herself outside of the norm. Scenes where she woos Robbie Amell’s jock neighbour with a funny voice or dances with a store mannequin, are funny in a way only the actress in the part can work. While the rest of the cast fade away into stereotypes (perhaps with the exception of Amell, who oozes charm), Mae Whitman remains the head of the show, fitting easily into the genre as if she has been doing this role her whole life. Sadly, the good points about this film run out fairly quickly soon after. While the premise is a smart set-up that finds a new place to mine the high school setting, sadly the rest of the movie is unwilling to find new ground. The DUFF starts inventive, but ends up clutching to high school cliches. The soundtrack is ripped shamelessly from Easy A, the plot descends into a My Fair Lady revival and the love interests are painfully unoriginal. A large part of the problem is that the movie is fixated so closely on the lead that the supporting stars have no time to develop. There is a pointlessly malicious bitch character, an oddball teacher and a vapid cute boy figure. It is the kind of film that is charmingly funny, but the narrative can be predicted from the start. Thankfully, there is enough charm to make this entertaining and it provides simple thrills. Set the bar at an achievable height and your expectations won’t be tarnished.
Final Verdict: A strong idea stuck in an unoriginal story. Thankfully it has enough charm to make it worth a watch regardless.