You know when a movie comes along and all signs point to it being bad, but you hope against hope that it’ll turn out to be okay. Sometimes, like Mean Girls, that’s exactly what happens. In other instances, like with The DUFF, it winds up just being all kinds of bad. Wow. You know, I was hoping that I’d be able to keep the Mean Girls comparison out of this review until at least the second paragraph, but I only actually made it until the second sentence.
Anyway, The DUFF is a high school movie centered on Bianca Piper (Mae Whitman), who only really has two friends, both of whom are taller, skinnier, prettier, etc. This doesn’t bother her until the football quarterback, Wesley (Robbie Amell), who is also her neighbor, mentions to her that she is the DUFF of her group. That stands for “designated ugly fat friend,” the person who makes their other friends look good — and, no, the person doesn’t have to be particularly ugly or fat in order to be the DUFF. Bianca then decides to effectively hire Wesley in order to teach her, a socially awkward girl who likes cult horror movies, to be “the pretty one.”
Meanwhile, the most popular girl at school, Madison (Bella Thorne), sometimes sets out to sabotage Bianca’s efforts, although she only appears periodically; she’s not the Regina George of the movie, since she’s not in it enough. Ooh, look at that. Another Mean Girls reference. I’m on fire. It’s almost as if The DUFF really wants to be Mean Girls but isn’t smart, funny, dramatic, or interesting enough.
The one thing that’s on The DUFF‘s mind is about how we all need to embrace who we are and not conform to society pressures or anything like that. It’s about being proud of yourself, and it tells us this as subtlety as it can by … telling us exactly what the film wants us to take from it right before the credits start to roll. Seriously, The DUFF is about as subtle as a sledgehammer to the face, or perhaps about as subtle as that analogy is. It’s not very subtle, is what I’m saying. Did you get that? It isn’t subtle about anything.
Problematically, it also isn’t particularly funny. Mae Whitman does her best to be awkward and sarcastic, and perhaps maybe someone who spends too much time on Buzzfeed, but that only works for so long. There are some laughs at the beginning, but after the first few minutes the laughs die down hard and fast. The DUFF‘s lack of subtlety and lackluster and predictable plot would both be excusable if it were gut-bustingly funny from start to finish, but it isn’t.
I wager this won’t really matter to anyone, but it’s a little odd to see people in their mid-to-late twenties playing high school students, isn’t it? Especially when the “mean” one is played by someone who’s 17. Mae Whitman and Robbie Amell are both 26, while, Bella Thorne is only 17. Obviously it’s not the worst casting in the world, but it’s noticeable, especially in the case of Amell, who looks way too old to be playing a high school student.
We probably wouldn’t care if the acting was great, but it’s really not. Whitman is fine, Thorne is evil, and that’s about all there is to say positively about the “high school” students. Amell is so lackluster that he can’t give his character any sense of dimension. Allison Janney and Ken Jeong also have roles, but neither is particularly funny, especially in the case of Jeong. His character is just so annoying. Lots of the movie is just like that. It’s more annoying than it is funny.
The DUFF is a movie that wants to be all about being and embracing yourself, and it does so explicitly telling you so right before the credits roll. Its story is predictable and not all that interesting, its lead character goes through a simple arc that isn’t very fun, and worst of all, it’s not particularly funny. This is a comedy that wants to be the next Mean Girls, but it’s nowhere near as clever or smart as Mean Girls is. Mae Whitman is fine in the lead role, but both she and Robbie Amell seem too old for high school, especially when put on-screen with Bella Thorne. The DUFF is a movie I hoped to like, but wound up feeling very disappointed by.