The DUFF (CBS Films, PG-13)

duff 75It’s hard to fault The DUFF for aspiring to be as good as those aforementioned high school classics, but really it only makes The DUFF suffer when held up against them.

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Hey! Mae Whitman’s got a lead role in a movie! That’s good news! And the movie, The DUFF, is trying to position itself amongst high school classics—it opens with a Breakfast Club reference, it uses Joan Jett’s “Bad Reputation” in a key scene (that song also known as the theme song to Freaks & Geeks), and it has some hint of themes explored in recent movies like 21 Jump Street or Easy A. As well, Whitman’s character, Bianca, is prone to wearing flannel and has an unrequited crush on a semi-long-haired musician whose name is apparently Toby Tucker (Nick Eversman), but may as well be Jordan Catalano.

But wait! It looks like it’s going to be one of those horrible, offensive makeover movies. A “DUFF,” as referenced in the title, is the “designated ugly fat friend,” who is the approachable gatekeeper to her prettier, more popular friends. And Bianca is the duff! (Mae Whitman is neither fat nor ugly, thank you very much.)

Oh, but all of that gets covered in The DUFF, which is rarely as good and sometimes as bad as it sounds. Mostly it’s just okay, though it has some funny scenes and some really bad scenes.

Bianca’s friends are Jess (Skyler Samuels) and Casey (Bianca Santos), and, in a refreshing twist, they’re actually good people. They’re smart and loyal and truly care for Bianca, despite the imbalanced notion of a duff’s role. (By the way, if you’re already getting tired of reading the word “duff” in this review, wait until you see the movie; it comes up about every third word.) But the real heart of the movie comes from Bianca’s friendship with her next-door neighbor Wes (Robbie Amell), who is helping her become more dateable in exchange for her helping him pass chemistry and thereby stay on the football team. Essentially Wes is coaching Bianca to be ready to approach (or be approached by) Toby, but we can all see where this is going from a mile away.

The DUFF is kind enough to point out that Bianca is not in fact fat nor ugly, and that the nature of being the duff in a group of friends is just that you’re less physically attractive than the others, relatively speaking. To some extent this defense seems like a cop-out, though, given the hateful language used in the definition of a “duff”.

It’s hard to fault The DUFF for aspiring to be as good as those aforementioned high school classics, but really it only makes The DUFF suffer when held up against them. It isn’t a terrible film, but there’s no solid reason to recommend it. One would think Whitman in the lead role would be enough, but in the end that too just serves to make you wish the film were better. | Pete Timmermann

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