Superior high school comedy featuring a stand-out turn from Mae Whitman
26-year-old Mae Whitman shines as a confident teenage outsider in this hysterical high school comedy, adapted from a novel written by Kody Keplinger when she was just 17. DUFF is an odious acronym for Designated Ugly Fat Friend – a term Keplinger came across in her school cafeteria. The neither plus-sized nor unattractive Whitman may seem like odd casting as the titular character but, as jock Wesley (Robbie Amell) explains, you don’t have to possess any of the traits described for the label to be applied.
When Bianca (Whitman) is called out as the DUFF in her social circle she rejects her happy, cult-film-loving lifestyle in order to rid herself of this reputation. She drops her two closest chums and recruits boy-next-door Wesley as an advisor, in exchange for help with his science homework.
Whitman is a fireball of energetic physical comedy and witty one-liners in a film that reaches for the heights of genre gems Easy A and Mean Girls. Rather than fully subverting the structure however, The DUFF plays around with teen movie tropes, delivering an admirable message about the importance of staying true to yourself and not obsessively making comparisons with those around you.
There are clear nods to She’s All That, including Bianca’s penchant for dowdy dungarees, but thankfully The DUFF doesn’t place too much focus on appearance. In the obligatory fashion montage, Whitman gleefully grinds against mannequins in silly outfits and the classic transformation reveal is judged perfectly. The fantastic Allison Janney injects even more hilarity as Bianca’s supportive single mother, who doles out tacky self-help mantras and seeks out her daughter’s advice on online dating. The DUFF is a heartfelt film that adheres somewhat to formula, but that's distinguished by its knowingness, Josh A Cagan's smart script and by a riotous central performance from Whitman.
General release from Mon 6 Apr.