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THE DUFF (review)

duffTHE DUFF

Written by Josh Cagan / Directed by Ari Sandel / Starring Mae Whitman, Robbie Amell, Bella Thorne and Alison Janney.

Bianca, when looking at her Halloween photo with Casey and Jess: Why was I Bosley? There were three angels!

High school comedies are unstoppable. We get them every year, and they are rarely memorable. It appears that a truly solid high school comedy only comes around once in a while. Five years ago there was EASY A, and now we have to make do Ari Sandel’s THE DUFF.

Mae Whitman (who viewers will know as Ann Veal, or her, from Arrested Development) stars as Bianca, a high school senior content with being the “alternative friend” to her super hot besties, Casey (Bianca Santos) and Jess (Skyler Samuels). When the three girls walk down the hallway together, boys drool over Casey and Jess while barely acknowledging Bianca. One night at a party, Bianca finds herself conversing with her seriously buff neighbor Wesley (Robbie Amell). Wesley casually informs Bianca that she is a “DUFF”. Like the audience, Bianca has no idea what a “DUFF” is. When Wesley explains the acronym to her, she appropriately pours her drink on his head. DUFF stands for Designated Ugly Fat Friend. Wesley explains that every group of friends has one; a less attractive friend who is easily approachable, who people use to gain access to his/her more attractive pals. The term is obviously offensive, but Wesley does explain that a person can be a DUFF without being ugly or fat. Days later, Bianca tells Wesley that if he can un-DUFF her, she will help him pass science. Consequently, the two begin to spend lots of time together, which quickly garners the attention of Wesley’s on again/off again girlfriend, the queen bee of the school, Madison (Bella Thorne).

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The plot is not very original, to say the least. The film will remind audiences of countless adaptations of Shaw’s Pygmalion, including MY FAIR LADY and most evidently SHE’S ALL THAT. The attractive bachelor building on the image of a helpless young woman storyline has been done far too many times, yet THE DUFF manages to give it a somewhat original spin. Sandel has successfully modernized this tired tale, due to his effervescent depiction of high school life. He manages to bring in the beloved John Hughes mood that is found in the best high school films.

Whitman is great as Bianca and provides the charm that a film like this really needs. Her comedic timing is excellent, giving her character the boldness she deserves. Toronto native, Amell does just fine as Wesley, but he’s at his best when he is riffing with Whitman. Then again, I’m sure that after his topless locker-room scene that his performance will be the last thing on people’s minds. Alison Janney and Ken Jeong appear for two short supporting performances as Bianca’s mother Dottie and teacher Mr. Arthur. Jeong gives the performance we expect from him, funny but forgettable. As per the usual, Janney is brilliant; stealing every scene she is in. Her Spinal Tap impersonation is too good to be missed; especially in a film targeted at an audience who have probably never heard of the band.

THE DUFF is not a great film by any means, yet it has just enough charm and laughs to make it memorable. While the acronym may be abominable, the film does manage to send out a strong message at the end. If you have been waiting patiently for the next EASY A, THE DUFF may be your best bet.

3.5 sheep

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