The DUFF – Film Review
I’m always on the lookout for the next great high school comedy. Because at heart, I’m a sixteen year-old girl.
After the kinda fizzle of GBF, The DUFF looked like the acronym I’d been praying for.
My prayers have been modestly answered.
TL;DR The DUFF takes all the elements necessary to achieve High School Movie Godhood, but carelessly narrows its focus too closely on only our hero. It’s still a charming, witty, buoyant romp, though. And Mae Whitman, even at twenty-seven years old, is definitely the coolest girl in school. 4 out of 5 stars.
And she isn’t just the second string, ineffectual love interest this time.
So the plot involves the basic plot device of any classic high school movie: a makeover. Mae Whitman is Bianca, a Hollywood Homely high schooler who finds out that she is the Designated Ugly Fat Friend to her two thinner, hotter friends. She enlists her childhood friend/neighbour, Wesley (an also-too-old-for-this-role Robbie Amell), to teach her the ways of, like, dressing well and flirting and stuff. In her quest to break free from her friends and woo a cute boy, Bianca inevitably realises that labels don’t define you. And that she was really in love with Wesley the whole time. As he is her. And Bella Thorne puts on her Scream character’s shoes as a mostly tangential mean girl antagonist. With requisite finale humiliation.
Not Courtney from Jawbreaker level humiliation, but I guess Mae was taking it easy on someone who is ten years her junior.
The DUFF certainly has a lot going for it. I like to imagine how much better GBF would have looked with this kind of budget.
And the central relationship between Bianca and Wesley is adorable and sincere.
But what keeps The DUFF out of the Clueless and Mean Girls pantheon is the surprising waste of the rest of the characters. We spend so, so much time with Bianca and Wesley that every time one of the supporting characters appears on screen it’s a struggle to remember who they are.
Although, given Bella Thorne’s acting choices, maybe that’s not so terrible.
Why I hate this movie:
Bella Thorne is the most prominent sore thumb of the movie. And a lot of that is on the back of her portrayal of Madison, the obligatory Alpha Bitch. My only real exposure to Bella Thorne is from her eight minute cameo in MTV’s Scream show, and she does pretty much the same thing here: force a pout and act bratty. You’ll need to do more than that to become an Alpha Bitch legend, baby.
It doesn’t help that her character is so thinly written. In a post Mean Girls world, it’s insane that a big budget high school movie would so neglect their main villain. Nobody gave a shit about Cady; Regina George is the star of the show. Even Easy A, which also fell short of greatness, had a divine Alpha Bitch in Amanda Bynes’ God Squad bigot. Poor Madison doesn’t even do most of the evil work; her little minion does. Madison just drops by occasionally to poutily and flatly deliver the necessary jibes at Bianca, and then endure an underwhelming humiliation at Homecoming.
Speaking of Homecoming, Bianca and Wesley’s They Do moment isn’t as soaring as it should have been. It is, again, bested by another high school movie: the widely ignored but secretly delicious It’s a Boy/Girl Thing (remember when Kevin Zegers was a cutie?). That had an epic They Do moment at its school dance. Learn from your predecessors, DUFF. Gosh.
The script suffers similar cultural relevancy problems as MTV’s Scream. This is a movie made for teens, but Bianca’s just dropping Bosley from Charlie’s Angels references like it ain’t no thang. Your target audience won’t get that, bitch.
Mae Whitman is possibly the thinnest and prettiest she’s been in her career, and she’s now cast in a movie called “The Designated Ugly Fat Friend?” Oh, Hollywood.
The movie tries to have its cake and eat it, too (like a real life DUFF would), by explaining that you don’t have to be necessarily fat or ugly to be a DUFF. You just have to be fractionally fatter and uglier than all of your friends.
Mae Whitman and Robbie Amell are both twenty-fucking-seven years old. And you can tell. Especially when Bella Thorne is over here all underaged and shit.
Bianca is one of those wet blanket friends who constantly dumps on any ideas. I’m surprised her girlfriends put up with her as long as they did.
Ken Jeong is irritating in an unnecessary minor role as a journalism teacher. The DUFF uses an article he assigns Bianca as an excuse for her to narrate occasionally, which is also unnecessary.
Oh, and there’s a joke that irked the shit out of me. Madison and her minion post a video to humiliate Bianca. Two random students are watching it on their phones, and one of them suggests “Viral?” and the other concurs: “Viral.” They reblog it or something, and then the video goes viral on the Internet. First of all, you can’t make something go viral. That’s not how viral videos work, so stop it. And secondly, why would anyone outside the school care about a video of some girl they don’t know pretending a mannequin is some boy they don’t know? What the fuck?
But it’s not all bad:
For all its faults, there is one perfect aspect to The DUFF: the chemistry between Mae Whitman and Robbie Amell. It’s absolutely, undeniably believable. They’re so at ease around each other that they put a smile on my face every moment they were together.
Mae Whitman is the shining light of this movie. Yes, she’s noticeably too old. But her line delivery, and her youthful voice (I guess being the animated Tinkerbell has its uses), are amazing. Everything she says is just so incredibly deliberate and nuanced. I really hope this is a breakout moment for her career.
Robbie Amell is his usual, ab-tastic self. He’s a little charmer, and he makes sure to take his shirt off multiple times. He doesn’t dominate scenes like Mae does, but he’s a great complement to her.
The evolution of their relationship is predictable, but nice. Just like any high school movie. And any romcom. The fact that they’re more chill than awkward around each other from the get go is a plus.
Toby, the boy Bianca originally wants to get with, is a fun supporting character. He appears to be happy to talk to Bianca, while she can barely get a word out in his presence. Of course, the reveal that he only wants to utilise her for her DUFF status to her hotter friends is an effective gut punch for Bianca. It works.
Bianca’s hotter friends get sidelined for most of the movie, but they are shown to be good girls. They do a decent job of protecting Bianca from Madison’s shit early on. And the Tough One uses her 1337 hacking skillz to take down the video of Bianca, even though Bianca had already fucked them off.
Bianca’s reaction to finding out she’s a DUFF is hilarious. Wesley just innocently dumps it on her at a party, not realising that she didn’t know. His subsequent attempts to clarify what he said don’t go well, and Bianca’s paranoia spirals. It’s a good first act.
Allison Janney makes what little screentime she gets as Bianca’s mum count. She was spurned in her divorce, and is now a motivational speaker.
There are a lot of great lines in the movie, so it’s hard to name a best one. But I’ll hold a little place in my little, little heart for this response from Allison Janney when Bianca catches her eavesdropping on her reconciliation with her friends:
Bianca: “Mum, have you been listening at the door, again?”
Allison Janney: “Yes, I was. This is juicy stuff.”
Another one worth remembering is when Bianca is giving her via-narration character introduction of Madison, and explains how even the gay guys want to fuck her. A gay guy then extrapolates: “I would totally bang the shit out of her. But I wouldn’t like it.” I wouldn’t go that far, but she has got a good silhouette.
Bianca and her friends get a brief slow-mo power walk for their Homecoming entrance. Always a classic.
Mae Whitman really goes for it during the fashion montage with the mannequin.
Oh, and things work out well for everyone: Bianca gets a hot man, and she helps Wesley enough with his grades so that he can go to college. And their high school sweetheart romance lasted forever and ever and they never had to suffer the indignity of a TV movie sequel, or sitcom continuation with a recast. The end.
As the next big high school movie, it falls short. As short as Mae Whitman. But as an endearing, sincere romcom between two endlessly likeable people, it’s a winner. It gives ugly, fat girls everywhere the hope that they, too, can bed a man with zero percent body fat. 4 out of 5 stars.