Movie Review: The DUFF (2015) Mae Whitman, Robbie Amell

The Duff still

Mae Whitman shines as the Designated Ugly Fat Friend (DUFF) in this surprisingly bearable teen rom-com

(Warning: This review may contain minor spoilers)

Mae Whitman, the young actress who usually plays a girl role that audience dislikes, like the chubby goth girls in The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012) and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010), here she plays an intelligent senior high school student who’s best friends with two popular hot girls Jess (Skyler Samuels) and Casey (Biance A. Santos). One day at a party that she reluctantly attended, her childhood male friend Wesley Rush (Robbie Amell), who’s also very popular in school, suddenly reveals to her that she’s a DUFF, which stands for “Designated Ugly Fat Friend”, a label on people who’re the least attractive one amongst their popular friends and the most approachable one that gets exploited to get to their more desired friends.

Despite being in denial and upset with Wesley for telling her she’s a Duff, she strikes a deal with him to help her get a date with her crush and in return she helps him pass his exams. A school mate recorded a video of them together during their “training” and causes Wesley’s highly popular on-and-off girlfriend Madison Morgan (Bella Thorne) to feel threatened and begins a viral campaign to embarrass Bianca.

The Duff group shot

Directed by feature film debutant and 2006 Best Live Action Short Film Oscar winner Ari Sandel, this film may sound like just another formulaic teenage romance comedy about a smarter-than-average but horny unpopular kid who’s striving to be accepted or to get laid and through the process and dramas the protagonist later learns that it’s actually not important, and like a fairy tale, she/he gets with mr. or mrs. right in the end. Well, it is actually exactly like that, but it doesn’t bore with the cliches as they are mostly done in a brief scene and the screenplay by Josh A. Cagan (It Has Begun: Bananapocalyse, Bandslam) provides much more bearable dialogues and some decent humour. The story, based on a novel by Kody Keplinger, does have purpose and positive social impact on the whole Duff issue with the current technology like social media as a huge part of the plot. Many can relate to the problem, but perhaps just not in this high school scenario.

Not sure if school kids here actually use this term but Duffs do naturally exist in people’s eyes in modern societies such as in the US. Mae Whitman’s unpretentiously good performance pretty much comes natural from her experience with similar roles in the past and she has the on-screen chemistry with Robbie Amell (The Flash TV series), but she probably won’t be the most convincing or inspiring Duff as she is neither too fat or ugly even by this social class standards, her character is intelligent and tough, she has extremely understanding friends who probably would’ve abandoned her if this was a true story, and her long-time neighbour is a popular good-looking guy who’s still willing to be nice to her. She’s too fortunate for actual Duffs to relate to.

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The other characters such as Casey and Jess are sidelined and therefore making their level of maturity unbelievable. The Hangover‘s Ken Jeong plays a teacher who’s trying to help but the role could’ve been taken by anyone else as it forbids Jeong’s comical abilities. The DUFF is certainly not as great as the better films of its genre like Mean Girls (2004) or Easy A (2010) but it is one of those very rare teen rom-coms that’s watchable and is mature enough to actually provide some valuable moral values to its target audience.

What I would’ve named the film: “The Not So Ugly or Fat DUFF’s Fairy Tale”

Malaysia censorship: At the press screening, only the F-bombs are muted.

Second opinion: My girlfriend liked the film, saying that it’s light and funny.

Verdict: A cliched teen fairy tale it may be but it’s smarter and has more purpose than the average rom-coms.

Rating: 3 / 5

The Duff meme

The Duff poster malaysiaBased on: “The Duff” novel by Kody Keplinger

Genre: Teenage romance comedy
Running Time: 101 minutes
Director: Ari Sandel
Screenwriter: Josh A. Cagan
Cast: Mae Whitman, Robbie Amell, Bella Thorne, Allison Janney, Ken Jeong

Malaysia Release Date: 9 April 2015
Rated: P13
Local Distributor: TGV Pictures
Production: Vast Entertainment, Wonderland Sound and Vision

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  1. Marlene Detierro

    This movie was SO funny! I was laughing out loud throughout the entire thing. I love how this is kind of a modernized "high school movie" in the sense that the "cliques" aren't the traditional ones we've all come to know. There's still all the drama, but with the very real issue of cyber bullying. Plus, the love story here is one for the ages. I'll NEVER get tired of the "boy next door" story line.

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