The DUFF (2015)


I subscribe to the theory that much of a romantic comedy’s ultimate success or failure comes down to the cast even more than the script. Charming leads will carry most wonky screenplays. On that note, The DUFF is at its best when it lets its cast bounce off of each other without much machination.

Mae Whitman is really excellent as the star: Funny and engaging and believably human for the dramatic bits to hit. She also carries herself not like a movie star, but like someone who might actually be called a “designated ugly fat friend” (though anyone calling Whitman “ugly” or “fat” needs to check themselves).

Robbie Amell, meanwhile, is charming but forgettable. But this isn’t really his story, so that fits the bill.

The DUFF is follows the story of Bianca Piper (Whitman), a high school senior who discovers she has been labeled as the “Designated Ugly Fat Friend” aka “The DUFF” of her friend group. Determined to change her social status, Bianca enlists the help of her charming next-door neighbor, Wesley (Amell), to transform her into a more popular and attractive girl. Would you believe, reader, that they end up having sparks?

The DUFF offers a sweet and lighthearted take on societal pressure in high school in addition to a being a breezy romcom. None of its insights come across as particularly blazing, but it’s more genuine and less trashy than many of its ilk.

Whenever the movie tries to be hip or timely — some particularly cringey bits involve characters listing and describing popular social media networks — you’ll feel like you got transported to something much dumber. But otherwise it’s pretty competent in its objective of convincing you of Bianca’s arc of self-empowerment, as well as her gradual romance with the hunky Wesley.

Plenty of the supporting cast are excellent. Bella Thorne relishes being a mean girl, Romany Malco (aka the black guy in 40 Year Old Virgin) is a scene-stealer as a befuddled principal, and even Ken Jeong is tolerable. But the biggest highlight of all is Allison Janney, who is absolutely hysterical and tone-perfect here.

The film is based off of the YA romcom book of the same title by Kody Keplinger, which is just as breezy and fun if not quite as human and warm. The film is adapted by Josh A. Cagan and directed by Ari Sandel, neither of whom have too many noteworthy credits to their name.

Nobody will mistake The DUFF for great cinema, but it’s a pretty solid and above average teen romcom.

Is It Good?

Good (5/8)

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