For the uninitiated, DUFF stands for Designated Ugly Fat Friend, although as Robbie Amell’s high school jock character points out in The DUFF, a DUFF doesn’t have to be either ugly or fat. The DUFF is that one friend who isn’t quite in the same league looks-wise as his or her BFFs and is therefore deemed to be the approachable one of the group, the one you go to to find out the scoop on the person’s better-looking friends. In the big screen adaptation of Kody Keplinger’s bestseller, the DUFF (played by Mae Whitman) turns to her platonic male friend (Amell) to help her overcome her DUFF designation and get the hair-tossing guitar-playing hottie she has set her sights on, all while battling the school’s mean girls and her own low self-esteem.
The plot sounds an awful lot like She’s All That, Can’t Buy Me Love, 10 Things I Hate About You, Mean Girls, or even Some Kind of Wonderful, and it would be easy to dismiss sight unseen The DUFF as a copycat/rip-off of high school coming-of-age films from decades past. However, The DUFF is so smartly written and well acted that to brush it off without giving the PG-13 comedy the opportunity to work its magic means you’ll be missing out on one of the few teen comedies that may remain relevant (and entertaining) for years to come. Simply saying it’s been done before is a lazy and, in this case, unfair dismissal of a movie that takes a familiar premise and puts its own unique spin on the subject matter while injecting the characters with fresh personalities all their own. Other than the lead Queen of Mean (played by Bella Thorne), The DUFF‘s characters are all fully fleshed out and not just stereotypes lifted from the pages of other teen comedy scripts.
The DUFF has a dressing room montage, a party at the mean girl’s house, and all of the pieces fall in place at the formal high school dance. But it also has genuinely funny and touching moments, and the integration of social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc) into the plot was a wickedly smart choice. The DUFF elevates standard teen movie plot devices and never feels like a paint-by-numbers production, even when it’s treading familiar ground. The hunky jock is a manwhore but also intelligent and thoughtful. The gorgeous BFFs are loyal to a fault and stand up to the mean girls, and the DUFF doesn’t wear glasses or a pigtail and in fact never undergoes a real physical makeover but instead learns to just be comfortable in her own skin (a refreshing change from the standard teen makeover movie). The ending is telegraphed from the beginning but how the story gets from point A to B to C is a pleasure to watch.
There hasn’t been a teen film worthy of being mentioned in the same breath as John Hughes’ classic coming of age movies since 2010’s Easy A…that is, until 2015’s The DUFF. Amell has exceptional timing and his chemistry with Whitman is natural and playful. And Whitman, finally given the opportunity to shine as the lead rather than the sidekick, is an irrepressible, engaging presence on screen. Whitman’s delivery is spot-on and her Bianca is someone you’d want to hang out with, someone the audience can get behind and support.
The Bottom Line:
“While meticulously drawn, the film’s characters are so stereotypically representative that only the lamest of moviegoers will not determine their respective backgrounds and problems long before the plodding movie does.” – The Hollywood Reporter
“Does director John Hughes really believe, as he writes here, that ‘when you grow up, your heart dies.’ It may. But not unless the brain has already started to rot with films like this.” – Variety
“Mr. Hughes, having thought up the characters and simply flung them together, should have left well enough alone.” – New York Times
“Director Amy Heckerling has failed to provide the raunch or poignancy that would interest young moviegoers, all of whom have seen American Graffiti and its 467 imitators. Ridgemont High? A nice place to visit, but who would want to transfer there?” – TIME Magazine
The first three quotes are all lifted from reviews of The Breakfast Club. The fourth quote is from TIME Magazine’s review of Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Will The DUFF directed by Ari Sandel still be connecting with audiences 30 years from now? The above quotes prove a film’s reviews at the time of its theatrical release aren’t the best way to gauge a movie’s shelf life. The DUFF is one of the best teen comedies to hit theaters in years and one that, surprisingly, connects with all ages and both sexes. Hopefully, it won’t be dismissed as just another teen make-over because that’s not what this sweet, charming, and occasionally mildly raunchy movie is all about.
MPAA rating: PG-13 for crude and sexual material throughout, some language and teen partying
Release date: February 20, 2015
Running time: 110 minutes