By Peter Gray Rated: (M)
Duff; Designated Ugly Fat Friend. It’s a term that’s been thrown around the tween vocabulary for a good while now, and though in some form or another it’s been at the core of many a teen film, it’s taken until 2015 for it to get its own vehicle. It’s not the most heartfelt acronym, and as we are told early on in the film that you don’t necessarily need to be overweight or unattractive, just less appealing than those around you.
Our DUFF in question is Bianca (Mae Whitman), a witty, carefree, overachieving high-schooler whose only claim to social relevance is the fact that her two best friends, Casey (Bianca A. Santos) and Jessica (Skylar Samuels), are certified hotties. Unaware that she’s their “duff” until blatantly pointed out by man-whore jock Wesley (Robbie Amell), Bianca refuses to maintain this status in her social group and, in typical teen film fashion, recruits Wes to “reverse DUFF” her. To call ‘The Duff’ predictable would be an understatement, it’s filled to the brim with clichés, and it’s undeniable as to where the unlikely friendship between Bianca and Wes will lead, but none of that ultimately matters when the film has recruited such a likeable and talented cast.
Whitman, best known for her work on TV’s ‘Arrested Development’, is the main reason this film works; her performance is stripped back of all traces of vanity, and her distinct brand of humour shines through for all to relate to. Amell, far from convincing as a teenager, plays to his stereotypical role to a tee, and it helps that he has a nice shiny set of abs to fall back on when the film wants to please its core audience. Elsewhere, Bella Thorne gives Rachel McAdams’ mean girl Regina George a run for her money in the queen bee stakes as a truly detestable tween bitch ready to cut down Bianca at any moment, whilst Allison Janney and Ken Jeong deliver plenty of laughs as Bianca’s motivational mother and favourite teacher respectably; Jeong remarkably toned down from his usual shtick (ala ‘The Hangover’).
Whilst ‘The Duff’ is unlikely to reach the classic, meme-worthy cult status of ‘Mean Girls’, or even a feature like Emma Stone’s breakout ‘Easy A’, it’s still an enjoyable little romp that brings to mind the teen films of the 1980’s and 1990’s. Though it’s generic and very much a film for the “now” with all its social media references, it doesn’t detract from how funny it is – thanks in large part to Whitman, who deserves to be seen on screen far much more if her work here is anything to go by.