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The Duff

The Duff

Released 6 April 2015
Director Ari Sandel

Annika Gordon, Mae Whitman, Robbie Amell, Bella Thorne, Bianca A. Santos, Skyler Samuels, Romany Malco, Nick Eversman, Ken Jeong, Allison Janney Cris Wylde
Writer(s) Josh A. Cagan
Producer(s) Susan Cartonis, McG, Mary Viola
Origin United States
Running Time 101 minutes
Genre Comedy
Rating TBC

Going viral.

If familiarity does indeed breed contempt, then at this stage we should be thoroughly irritated by high school movies. Over the decades in which Hollywood cinema has prowled the halls and classrooms of the American teen, nothing much has really changed. The modern iterations of the genre may be overly concerned with showing how hip they are to social media trends but at the end of the day there are still popular kids and dweebs, homecoming dances and heartbreaks. On the plus side, the constancy of reference points means that it’s easy enough to make a teen movie that will connect with its audience but it also means that true originality is hard to find.

The Duff is far from original but is a perfectly likable package of things we’ve all seen countless times before. Our heroine is Bianca (Mae Whitman), a movie-loving tomboy with two beautiful and popular best friends, Jess and Casey (Skyler Samuels, Bianca A.Santos). Although she wishes she could catch the eye of her crush Toby, Bianca is generally happy. That all changes when her neighbour and one time childhood friend Wesley (Robbie Amell), mentions in conversation that she is a “Duff” - the designated ugly fat friend of her more popular peers. Bianca is initially furious but then decides to fight back, offering the handsome and popular Wesley chemistry lessons in exchange for his help becoming dateable.

The Duff is self-consciously modern in its gimmickry - leaning heavily on the visual language of social media as well as placing Bianca as the victim of some youtube based cyber-bullying. Take away all this millenial posturing though and this is the classic tale of an ugly duckling trying to fit in and get her guy. In terms of carrying the film, Whitman is a little disappointing. She has good comic timing but is better with a sarcastic quip than she is with physical comedy - perhaps because at 26, the actress doesn’t really convince in Bianca’s zanier moments of 17 year old immaturity. Her sparky interactions with Robbie Amell though are enjoyable; Wesley has a lot more personality and charisma than I’d usually expect to see from a high-school beefcake.

So, although it’s no Mean Girls (but what is?), The Duff is a fun little film that is lacking in originality. This could have been forgiven if the script had been a little more acidic but despite its attempts to be modern, it has a tendency to veer towards more sugary territory.

- Linda O’Brien