Film Review: The Duff

(Written for Filmoria)

Directed by Ari Sandel and based on the novel of the same name by Kody Keplinger, The DUFF follows high school senior Bianca (Mae Whitman), whose world is shattered when she learns that she is the ‘DUFF’ – the Designated Ugly Fat Friend – to her prettier, more popular best friends. Enlisting the help of charming jock Wesley (Robbie Amell), Bianca sets out to ditch her friends, and therefore the label, in order to reinvent herself and find the courage to talk to her high school crush. But the school’s ruthless label maker Madison (Bella Thorne) isn’t going to make it easy for her.

If you’ve heard anything about The Duff recently, then you would have heard the attached comparisons with Bridesmaids and Mean Girls. It’s been a few years since we’ve had such a well executed, female-led comedy, and that’s what The Duff has been promised to be.

I must begin by commenting that the promotion for The Duff hasn’t been particularly good. Attaching the stars of Gordie Shore to the televised trailers hasn’t given the film the reputation that a unique and unconventional comedy like this deserves; this is a film for those who never fit in at school, and the girls who cared more about education and enjoying life than having the most friends and wearing the right brands of clothing. But if you know of Mae Whitman, then you know that a film like this isn’t going to be your average high school comedy. This time, we’re taking the perspective of the outsider: the grungey, intelligent, and not-so-well-maintained girl who isn’t going to let the stereotypes of high school get in her way.

And it’s because of Whitman that The Duff has pulled in so many positive reviews. If you’re a fan of hers already then this is definitely a film worth the watch. But if you’re not, then you soon will be. Whitman gives a fantastic lead, and with the well-written script she works with, The Duff is full of wit and character. Her relationship with Amell, as well, gives the film another off-beat edge, and it’s great to see such a genuine and humorous chemistry between two characters playing opposite stereotypes.

What The Duff does excellently is to bring a modern twist to the high school story we’ve all seen so many times before by including the use of technology and social media, whilst also giving it the switch around of having the least popular girl hitting back and winning her own story. There are a few scenes that feel out-of-place, but overall the film does succeed in being original and engaging.

But for me, the problems arise between the rest of the high school clichΓ©s. Bella Thorne is an actress we’re certainly going to be seeing a lot more over the next few years, but she doesn’t fit the face of the ‘popular girl’ in school. This is one of her biggest roles in film after a break-out performance in last year’s comedy Blended, so she doesn’t have the presence that, say, Rachel McAdams did in Mean Girls. But we don’t get to see her character be the bitch she is implied to be either, so the stereotypes all feel quite tame when they need to be better exaggerated in a film that is about such characteristics and labels.

Alongside a number of other details that are lacking in the background of the other characters and the high school setting, the only real quality focus is put on Whitman’s character, meaning that everything else feels quite hollow. It is a film that takes a little getting into as it tries to convince you that it is a unique story worth waiting out, but in the end it’s only Whitman’s performance and character that stands out.

The Duff may be a modern twist on your typical high school comedy, but it is not as timeless as the films that it is being compared to. In ten years time when we are still laughing at Mean Girls and Bridesmaids and watching them for the thousandth time without a flicker of boredom, The Duff will have well and truly be forgotten about. So watch it now, in its prime, before you miss out on its hype.

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