Starring: Mae Whitman, Robbie Amell, Bella Thorne
Director: Arie Sandel
Running Time: 101 mins
The DUFF is an American film about a high-schooler who attempts to overhaul the school social hierarchy after she finds out she has been labelled a DUFF (Designated Ugly Fat Friend).
This film genuinely surprised me. I was expecting the typical high school affair where teens get their lives ruined by things that don’t matter, and although the film does start off that way, it develops nicely into a pleasant and enjoyable story about friendship. With some good humour and strong performances along the way, The DUFF is a surprisingly entertaining film that works brilliantly when it strays away from the high school generics.
Let’s start with the one consistent thing throughout the whole film: the performances. When the story isn’t at its brightest, Mae Whitman’s central performance is a big help to keep the film engaging and enjoyable. Taking on the ‘outsider’ role of the DUFF, she’s actually very charismatic and appealing, and makes for a surprisingly supportable protagonist, going against the majority of high school movies, where we rarely see a really great central character.
Whitman’s excellent comedic timing in tandem with some impressive dramatic skills are great to see, and she stands head and shoulders above the majority of her co-stars. Robbie Amell does well in a secondary role, although his performance isn’t nearly as entertaining as Whitman, whilst the film’s antagonist, a high school princess played by Bella Thorne, is good too, and makes her character as infuriating a sight as possible every time she’s on screen.
What makes and breaks this film, however, is its story. For the first act, it’s a dull, irritating and pointless rip-off of Mean Girls, with very little in the way of genuine drama beyond some high school trivialities, and the only entertainment I was getting was from the central performance, which was providing most of the laughs then too.
However, the film takes a strong turn for the better halfway through, as we focus on the main character’s growing friendship with a male student helping her to shake off her image as the DUFF. Although I’m definitely not happy with the way the friendship is concluded, there was a good forty minute period where I was totally caught up in watching a very pleasant and real friendship develop away from the high school social sphere.
The humour improves in that section, Robbie Amell and Mae Whitman have excellent chemistry, and the story’s emotional pathos about just forgetting the world of high school entirely works brilliantly, making for an excellent central block to an otherwise overly generic high school movie.
Overall, I was surprised by The DUFF. Its second and third act go a long way to rectifying the mistakes of the first, where we see nothing more than Mean Girls 3 being played out with different actors. Mae Whitman’s central performance is strong throughout, but what I love most about this film is its development from annoying high school ‘drama’ into a genuine and pleasant story about friendship, and that’s why I’m giving it a 7.4.