According to the movies high school is made up of a few, very specific characters. There’s the good-looking jock whose life isn’t nearly as rosy off field as it is on. The standard issue mean girl with an attitude and feathered hair, the supportive best friends and the outsider who discovers they’re more of an insider than they ever could have imagined.
Based on the book by Kody Keplinger, “The Duff” mixes and matches these stereotypes, shaking things up just enough to keep things interesting… at least until recess.
“Parenthood’s” Mae Whitman is Bianca, a senior whose idea of a good time is taking in a horror movie marathon and hanging with BFFs Jess and Casey (Skyler Samuels & Bianca Santos). Her happy life is turned upside down, though, when the best looking guy in school, Wes (Robbie Amell), informs her that she is a DUFF, the Designated Ugly Fat Friend. As the gatekeeper to her prettier friends she is the approachable one who boys befriend to get closer to Jess and Casey. The news drives a wedge in her friendship with the girls, forcing her to turn to Wes to reverse-DUFF her. In her mom’s (Allison Janney) words when she gets proactive her problems get subtractive. Wes builds her confidence and soon a date with the boy of her dreams (Nick Eversman) teaches her an important lesson about the place of DUFFs in the world.
“The Duff” is a typical teen comedy, sprinkled with some funny lines—when the school institutes a cell phone ban one student complains, “I just thought of something funny and now no one will know!”—the usual examination of the all-important school social hierarchy and for the first half of the running time it works well in a low-to-no expectations kind of way.
Elevating “The Duff” from a C- to a B is Mae Whitman. Funny and charismatic she has a Bette Midler-esque way with a joke and enough pathos to make you care about her teenage crush. She delivers the movie’s best lines and, not surprisingly, has the best delivery of anyone in the film. Hopefully next time out she’ll graduate from high school shenanigans to more grown-up material.
“The Duff” is “Mean Girls Lite,” a school comedy so predictable the screenwriters should be sent to the principal’s office but with a central performance worth skipping last period for.