We've been told time and time again that high school is brutal. Cliques, social mores, and now social media all shape how we see ourselves, as well as how the world sees us. It's a serious subject that deserves some true dissection in a manner that can get through to teens without annoying adults. While The DUFF isn't the super-serious examination that some wish existed on this subject matter, it is a clever comedy that isn't a chore to sit through if you're outside of the target demographic. Oh, and your kids are gonna love it.
Bianca Piper (Mae Whitman) is the girl who loves horror movies, rocks flannel, and doesn't partake in the typical girly things in life. Having two kind yet fashion-forward, friends doesn't help, and having a mother who's a self help author is even worse.But she manages. At least, she manages until her friend Wesley (Robbie Amell) tells her that she's a Designated Ugly, Fat Friend (a DUFF) for her social group. Soon enough she's trading chemistry lessons for a makeover, risking a new reputation and the wrath of Wesley's on again/off again ex (Bella Thorne).
In the first thirty minutes or so, The DUFF is very much a product laser targeted at its audience. The soundtrack is shuffling songs constantly, social media is used as a backstory delivery method, and a prolonged tiff between Bianca and her friends leads to an awkward social media unfriend-zy. Thankfully, that's the lowest point of the film's story, as it starts to pick up after that unpleasantness is out of the way. Much like its protagonist, The DUFF transforms itself from a normal YA adaptation into a fun comedy that uses Whitman and Amell's natural comedic timing, as well as ample chemistry, to put together a romantic comedy that doesn't sell itself too hard.
Better still, The DUFF manages to secure some of comedy's heavy hitters to play “the adults” in the film, as Allison Janney, Ken Jeong, and Romany Malco all bring their comedic chops to the table. What could have been random throwaway roles in a film that's obviously marketed towards young adults, the fact that director Ari Sandel has an excellent supporting cast helps the rest of the film flow very easily. It also gives parents something to enjoy while their kids are laughing along side them. Also, special note must be given to comedic character actor Chris Wylde, as he not only holds his own with his adult co-stars, but he also manages to snag a couple really funny lines.
The DUFF is a teen comedy that can sit beside Mean Girls, in the respect that it takes its subject matter on with a meta sensibility. It's should also be seen as a good launching pad for Mae Whitman to start playing some more lead roles, as she not only carries this film, she makes it pop.