*** 1/2 out of 5
Rated PG-13 for crude and sexual material throughout, some language and teen partying
Article first published at The Reel Place.
Sometimes the bar is set low for watching a movie. And other times you wind up pleasantly surprised — as is the case of The DUFF — which is even better. Especially when said film falls in the realm of the worn-out teen-comedy genre. We all know what’s going to happen before the credits roll, but it has a smart enough script and enjoyable cast to make the destination worthwhile.
With Mae Whitman and Robbie Amell in the leads, The DUFF winds up way better than it looks. Director Ari Sandel wrings more laughs than expected from screenwriter Josh A. Cagan’s adaptation of Kody Keplinger’s novel. It’s on the same level as Mean Girls or Easy A, while never getting as mean spirited as Jawbreaker. While still a far cry from the John Hughes classics, The DUFF isn’t the waste of time — like the trailer indicates.
Our “D.U.F.F.” in question is high schooler Bianca Piper (Whitman) who is trying to survive the awkward high school years in the shadow of her two hotter, more popular friends, Casey (Bianca A. Santos) and Jessica (Skyler Samuels). Bianca is clueless to her DUFF predicament until her childhood friend/next door neighbor Wesley Rush (Amell) tells her that she’s their “Designated Ugly Fat Friend.”
While Wesley tries to assure her it’s just a term and she’s neither fat nor ugly, Bianca has no choice but to take measures of her own against her best friends, and eventually, the whole school. After the most popular girl in school and Wesley’s on-again/off-again girlfriend Madison (Bella Thorne) unleashes a viral video threatening Bianca’s any chance of being taken for who she really is, it’s up to Wesley to navigate her through the ruthless halls of high school and the awkward dating world as well.
We all know films released in February are bound for disaster, yet somehow, The DUFF manages to be way better than it should be. Whether it’s director Sandel’s pacing, or if there was more on-set improv than screenplay, it all comes together hilariously. While definitely not perfect, and nowhere near a classic, there’s plenty to keep you laughing along to the semi-hypocritical final scene. Note: You shouldn’t have your main characters doing the exact opposite of the point you’re trying to make in the narration.
The biggest saving grace is the cast. Whitman and Amell are super cute together, and even have some actual comedic chemistry, which goes a long way to helping through the more cliched moments. And it doesn’t hurt when Bianca proves her smarts by correcting Wesley over his improper use of “irregardless.” In supporting roles, Ken Jeong continues to be a big screen irritant, but Allison Janney does get to have fun as Bianca’s mom. The DUFF definitely won’t go down as one of the year’s best comedies, but it’s at least a fun comedy, filled with likable and believable characters — in spite of the actors’ ages — you can finally root for.