‘The DUFF’ falls short of its ‘She’s All That’ attempt
Bianca (Mae Whitman) is smart, quirky and best friends with two of the hottest girls in school. Everyone constantly asks about them, but never Bianca herself. One night at a party, Bianca gains a new perspective when her neighbor, childhood friend and school jock Wesley (Robbie Amell) tells her that she’s the DUFF — designated ugly fat friend — of her group. To change her image, Bianca observes school queen Madison (Bella Thorne) and her best friends, as well as leading her to change her image with the help of Wesley.
The DUFF tries to find a balance between a film for younger and teenage audiences, but the line it walks leads to another semi-decent film about an unrealistic high school experience. There’s nothing wrong with the idea of the film and the actors, but the execution and story feel incredibly off-base, and it’s hard to buy this film because it seems so unrealistic. Sure, I laughed from time to time and won’t deny the chemistry between some characters, but those weren’t enough to salvage this film.
Mae Whitman is the standout star, remaining true to herself and conveying a sense of normality in an abnormal world. Her Bianca is goofy, lazy, smart, funny and often uncompromising. She’s essentially like most high schoolers and isn’t ashamed of that. She goes through an identity crisis and the pressures of high school begin to weigh her down, but she still retains her sense of self throughout everything. She has wonderful chemistry with Amell and gives a pleasant performance. She’s almost reminiscent of a high school Zooey Deschanel!
Robbie Amell, who seems to be in a perpetual state of being 26, does a better job here than he has in other films of this nature by making his character agreeable. Wesley can be rude, but he’s charming and often hilarious. He has an odd world-view, but it helps explain his character, and it allows Bianca to grow closer to him. He may be the jock, but he’s got more going on upstairs than others.
Most of the supporting cast are useless due to their unbelievable characters. No one bats an eye about Madison being outrageously rude to everyone. Bullying has no effect on anyone, and somehow Whitman and Amell are always being filmed by Thorne’s right-hand woman. They don’t do enough to make Bianca’s not fitting in believable.
During the screening of this film, I sat next to a good friend of mine and we would periodically whisper what would happen next in the film. Not to toot our own horns, but we essentially mapped this film out from start to finish in a matter of minutes and weren’t wrong about what would inevitably happen. This film telegraphs every move it’s going to make. The characters and scenarios only serve to setup a bigger ending that will satisfy the lead characters, but not the audience.
“The DUFF” does employ some fun effects that serve to exemplify how Whitman feels, but even those get old after a while and come off as a gimmick. Allison Janney finds herself in another supporting role that uses her comedic style to its fullest advantage, but she only plays a negligent mom who helps when the story calls for it. Despite Whitman and Amell’s best efforts, they alone cannot make this film more than something you smile at occasionally and then forget the next day.