The DUFF  is a teen comedy starring Mae Whitman as Bianca Piper, a high school senior who suddenly finds out that she is the DUFF (Designated Ugly Fat Friend) to her prettier and more popular friends. Desperate to reinvent herself, Bianca seeks the help of Wesley (Robbie Amell). She must find the confidence to stop the judgmental Madison (Bella Thorne) from ruining her reputation.
Wait! It’s actually good! If you rolled your eyes after reading that synopsis, fear not! This is miles smarter than your average teen movie. While it does hit the usual beats, the dialogue is sharp and the characters feel like real people. It doesn’t dive into the dated stereotypes that have plagued high school movies since the ‘80s. This actually acknowledges how high school has changed throughout the years. Anyone can be a nerd or a jock; the battlefield has been evened out.
Actors matter. It also helps that Mae Whitman is terrific in the lead role. She’s funny, charming, and even shows some depth. It’s a fully realized performance and Mae Whitman sells every second of it. She has great chemistry with Robbie Amell and we find ourselves rooting for them, even though we all know the outcome. Ken Jeong tones down his comedic antics and scores some laughs. Heck, even Allison Janney has a small, but fun, role as Bianca’s mother. The only weak link is Bella Thorne, who feels like she walked off the set of Mean Girls. She’s the only one who feels like a caricature, instead of an actual person.
Calling John Hughes…Calling John Hughes. The influence of John Hughes is very evident here (A Breakfast Club reference is made within the first five minutes). And thankfully, it earns it through likable characters and sharp writing. It’s a feel-good movie but does so without being schmaltzy. I can only hope this one will find an audience through cable or DVD.
One of the better high school movies.