Bianca (Mae Whitman) is smart, quirky, and best friends with two of the hottest girls in school. Everyone is constantly asking about them, but never Bianca herself. One night at a party, Bianca gains a new perspective when her neighbor and childhood friend Wesley (Robbie Amell), the jock of the school, tells her that she’s the “DUFF” of her group. DUFF stands for Designated-Ugly-Fat-Friend and leads Bianca to observe the posh school queen Madison (Bella Thorne) and her best friends, as well as leading her to change her image with the help of
The DUFF tries to find a balance between a film for younger audiences and a film for present day high schooler’s, but the line it walks leads to it becoming just another semi-decent film about an outrageously unrealistic high school experience. There’s nothing wrong with the idea of the film and even the actors in the film, but the execution and story feel incredibly off-base and it’s hard to buy this film because it seems so unrealistic. Sure, I laughed from time to time and won’t deny the chemistry between some characters, but those weren’t enough to salvage this film.
Mae Whitman is undoubtedly the standout star of the film by remaining true to herself and conveying a sense of normality in a world of abnormality. Her Bianca is goofy, lazy, smart, funny, and often uncompromising. She’s essentially like most high schoolers and isn’t ashamed of that. She, like many, goes through an identity crisis and the pressures of high school begin to weigh her down, but she still retains her sense of self throughout everything. She has wonderful chemistry with Amell and watching her every move and listening to what she says is always a joy in this film. She’s almost reminiscent of a high school Zooey Deschanel!
Robbie Amell, who seems to be in a perpetual state of being 26 and playing the high school jock in films, does a better job here than he has in other films of this nature by bringing an overwhelming sense of likability to his character. He can be a jackass sometimes, but he’s undeniably charming and often hilarious. The way he views the world is odd, but it helps explain his character and it allows Whitman to grow closer to him. He may be the jock, but he’s got more going on upstairs than most.
As for the rest of the supporting cast, most of them are useless due to their lack of believability. These high schoolers live in a world where no one bats an eye about Bella Thorne being a raging b*tch to everyone and filming her exploits to share with the world. Bullying has no effect on anyone and somehow Whitman and Amell are always being filmed by Thorne’s right-hand woman. Thorne’s not a bad actress, but this role is simply awful and doesn’t fit in with this world. No high school has ever, nor will ever be like the one in this film and that’s a big deal if you want me to believe that the lead character doesn’t fit in.
During the screening of this film, I sat next to a good friend of mine and we would periodically whisper what would happen next in the film. Not to toot our own horns, but we essentially mapped this film out from start to finish in a matter of minutes and weren’t wrong about what would inevitably happen. This film telegraphs every move it’s going to make and nothing is surprising. The characters and scenarios only serve to setup a bigger ending that will satisfy the lead characters, but not the audience.
The DUFF does employ some fun effects that serve to exemplify how Whitman feels, but even those get old after a while and come off as a gimmick. Of course, Allison Janney finds herself in another supporting role that uses her comedic style to its fullest advantage, but she only plays a negligent mom who helps when the story calls for it. Despite Whitman and Amell’s best efforts, they alone cannot make this film more than something you smile at occasionally and then forget the next day.
The DUFF Trailer