After being told that she’s the DUFF (designated ugly fat friend) to her two more attractive best friends, Bianca (Mae Whitman) seeks help from her popular, next-door neighbor, Wesley (Robbie Amell) to reinvent herself in order to get the attention of her crush, Toby. Instead, she discovers what it means to accept herself for who she is.
There are a lot of fantastic teen movies. There are also a lot of really crappy teen movies. While The DUFF isn’t a fantastic teen movie, it’s still pretty good and much, much better than some of the others we’ve received over the past decade. I recall enjoying The DUFF when it was initially released and that didn’t change much when I watched it to review for the blog. It holds up surprisingly well.
Mae Whitman truly carries the film. She’s the most talented actor among the bunch and while I’ve never been a huge fan of Robbie Amell, he was appealing enough in this movie to make me root for Bianca and Wesley’s romance. She’s a nerd, he’s a jock – can I make it any more obvious? Allison Janney is fantastic as always as Bianca’s divorcée-turned-life coach mother. Romany Malco and Ken Jeong both appear as well, as Bianca’s principal and teacher. Their humor is much more subtle but nevertheless effective.
The biggest weak link in the film is Bella Thorne as Wes’s ex and Queen B*itch of the school, Madison. An obvious attempt at recreating Regina George but instead, Madison is one-dimensional and Thorne’s acting is pretty atrocious. Supposedly the character does not even exist in the book but the producers like Thorne enough during her audition (for Bianca) that they created the character of Madison specifically for her. If this is true, I must ask… why? Do we always need the mean ex-girlfriend to make our protagonist’s life a living hell, while the love interest stands by and lets her until the very last scene when he finally wises up? Occasionally it works, when the writing is good and the right actress is chosen, but that’s such a rarity. And it didn’t work for me here.
I don’t know that the writing was overly clever, or even genre-breaking, but there’s enough wit and charm to make The DUFF entertaining while pushing an important message without sounding too preachy. It also hits a lot of your typical teen movie tropes, but I didn’t mind most of them because, again, Mae Whitman was so good. As Bianca, she’s funny and relatable and honestly, I’d say most teenagers could admit they’re the “DUFF” of their friend group. It’s a disparaging phrase, of course, but the movie pushes the idea that there is always going to be someone out there prettier, smarter, and better than you at nearly everything. But that’s okay. Be who you are and own it. Enjoy it! And watch and enjoy The DUFF too. I did!