In a genre infamous for making its young female audience question their social status and personal identity, The DUFF is a quirky teen comedy which revels in the notion of what is considered ‘ugly’, re-imagining classic chick-flick clichés – all whilst remaining true to its form, with its entertaining archetypal characters and distinctive story arcs.
The intelligent school journalist, Bianca Piper (Mae Whitman – Arrested Development and Scott Pilgrim vs The World) begins by introducing the day that changed her perception of school, claiming that the “brave new world” and the “place without labels” she thought existed, in fact, is still replaced with a system that puts high-schoolers in a specific box… her box being a particularly unfortunate one. One month before her homecoming dance, Bianca becomes aware that she is known as a DUFF – a ‘Designated Ugly Fat Friend’ – supposedly chosen by her two, typically hot, best friends, Casey (Bianca Santos) and Jess (Skyler Samuels), in order to make themselves look better by comparison.
As well as having to deal with this new information, Bianca is persistently tormented by the school’s queen bee, Madison Morgan (Bella Thorne), who goes to lengths to embarrass her as much as possible – whether it be reminding her that she could never end up with a boy as good looking as her crush, Toby, or Madison’s on-again-off-again ex-boyfriend, Wesley (Robbie Arnell), whom Bianca grew up with, or by making viral videos of her awkward attempts to hit on guys. Bianca is also set a journalist assignment by her favourite teacher, Mr. Arthur (Ken Jeong), to write an article about what homecoming means to her, which proves to be harder and harder as her remaining school days become shrouded by the thoughts of her new DUFF status.
As Bianca tries to think of ways to tackle her derogatory label, she notices Wesley is failing Chemistry and will not get the sports scholarship he desperately wants if he does not pass by the end of the year. She proposes a trade of skill – she will tutor Wes in Chemistry if he teaches her how to be popular and attractive. This new agreement rekindles their youthful friendship and sparks a lot of jealousy from Madison, only spurring her on further to ridicule Bianca.
The characters are all entertaining and well-cast, with Mae Whitman as a fantastic leading lady, perfectly capturing the awkward, alternative high-schooler (despite being 26 at the time of filming), pulling it off with great comedic timing and a real likability. Allison Janney plays her mother in the film (of course…) but is given a rather unique character which she thrives off, providing a very funny performance. She plays a recently divorced woman who had an epiphany whilst watching an episode of ‘the Simpsons’ and wrote a best-selling self-help book, ‘The Five Stages of Divorce’, which she then believes gives her the power to mentor her daughter with her various ‘mantra’. Bella Thorne’s character, Madison, seems to embody the old chick-flick clichés, stating that “what happens in high-school is going to stay with us forever” – and, of course, outdated way of viewing school’s social hierarchies, which makes her character more easy to ridicule than the protagonist; possibly director Ari Sandel’s way of mocking typical chick-flick formulas.
Yes, there are a lot of chick-flick clichés in The DUFF – the protagonist’s narration, the archetypal popular/unpopular social division, some form of grand humiliation, and the popular boys eventually falling for the once-unpopular girl – however, she doesn’t do a ‘Sandy from Grease’ and entirely change herself to impress the boy, which is extremely refreshing. Her problems are not solved by suddenly dressing like the popular girls like a large number of teen films; rather, her issue is resolved through her friendships, embracing who she is, and exerting a new found confidence in the face of adversity – which is really what makes the DUFF an exciting film, hopefully breathing new life and innovation into those that succeed it in the near future.
A must-watch for any fans of Mean Girls and Easy A, or anyone returning to school next month, The DUFF is available on DVD and download from today.
Comedy | USA, 2015 | 15 | 17th August 2915 (UK) |Entertainment One UK | Dir: Ari Sandel |Mae Whitman, Bella Thorne, Robbie Amell, Ken Jeong, Alison Janney, Bianca A. Santos, Skyler Samuels |Buy:The DUFF [DVD]