Director: Ari Sandel
Starring: Mae Whitman, Robbie Amell, Nick Eversman, Ken Jeong, Chris Wylde, Romany Malco, Allison Janney
Rated: PG-13 (crude and sexual material throughout, some language and teen partying)
A high school senior instigates a social pecking order revolution after finding out that she has been labeled the DUFF – Designated Ugly Fat Friend – by her prettier, more popular counterparts.
By Cole Schneider
The new high school comedy, “The DUFF” has some elements working in its favor. It has some fun comic set pieces, and a great lead in Mae Whitman (as Bianca), but it also has some lazy writing, incredibly thin characters, a faux-style that never seems fresh, and a confused message. The story follows Bianca, who is a zombie movie fan that wears plaid (that’s really all we know about her) who has two cooler friends. She soon learns from her neighbor, the school’s football star, that she is their DUFF–designated ugly fat friend. She goes on to help him with chemistry in exchange for his help to make her more ‘dateable’.
At times it has some genuine high school comedy but it never peaks. It’s like Kevin Smith directed a Disney Channel movie. It’s edgy but in a mannered sort of way that reeks of middle-aged execs making character decisions for teenagers. A big problem with the film is that Whitman simply isn’t fat or ugly in any way and even her two-dimensional character is way cooler than the character we’re made to believe she is. There’s no way this girl only has two friends. The guy is worse. His arc takes him from jerk of legendary proportions to something else, I guess. I don’t want to ruin the predictable turn of events.
“The DUFF” is about the silliness of labels and cliches but it carefully follows every cliche in order to label itself label-free. The irony is that “The DUFF” is itself an ugly imitation of better movies that kids will pass right through on their way to its better-looking friends, an ethic better applied to films than people. The soundtrack should be fun for kids. It’s a fun, eclectic assembly of songs ranging from Fall Out Boy to Daft Punk to Joan Jett.
Rating: 1 out of 5 stars
By Matt Greene
There’s nothing worse than a near-miss. Unfortunately, that describes The DUFF. Next to its genuine cuteness and willingness to try faux-new stuff, it never quite nails its tone. Its unfocused perspective is amateurish. Consistently over-reaching in multiple areas (bullying, cliques, friendship, dating, divorce) the negatives ultimately overshadow the decent if familiar teen-based humor.
Whitman plays the titular DUFF, a scholastically-inclined horror-film fan learning to deal with the idea that she may be the ugly one in her group of friends. From there, the rules by which the movie and characters live are juvenile and dumb. The dialogue, which boasts decent “Gilmore Girls”-esque cutesiness, often feels less like real people talking and more like out-of-touch adults trying desperately to understand youth culture.
Whitman, however, mostly comes out unscathed. She’s funny, cute, and smartly funny as the awkward focus of this even more awkward film. Surrounding her, though, are a bevy of Old Navy mannequins trying to pass as recognizable and funny teenagers. With zero complexity and even less charisma, these “mactors” bring the film to a halt.
More egregious is the confused ethics. Bullying, a recent hot-button social topic, is the focus here, but its handling of it is lazy and ill-advised. The moral could potentially cause as much bullying as it prevents. Of course this could be overlooked if the film was just funnier or more unique. As is, The Duff is a movie with a lot of potential but never breaks any new ground. In the shadow of Mean Girls, Clueless, Easy A, and 21 Jump Street, it’s sadly a bad rip-off of much better teen films.
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars