|Bianca (Mae Whitman) shines in this hilarious teen comedy.|
Directed by Ari Sandel
Written by Josh A. Cagan
Based on the novel "The Duff" by Jody Keplinger
Starring Mae Whitman, Robbie Amell, Bella Thorne, Bianca A. Santos, Allison Janney, Skyler Samuels, Jen Jeong
2015, PG-13, 101 mins.
Flashback a couple years ago, critics and audiences alike were gushing all over EASY A, the Emma Stone-led teen comedy that everyone cited as invoking the relatability, romance, and contemporaryness of those John Hughes movies of the eighties - but, y'know, nowish. I personally never bought a ticket on the EASY A bandwagon of love, although I do admit it's a darn good movie with one beautiful and talented lead actress, but it never really deserved all the kudos it got.
With THE DUFF, here's a situation where I feel that here's a movie that completely deserves all those accolades - the relatability, the feel-good romance vibe, and firmly reflecting the contemporary culture in which it's set - probably won't get its due from critics and the mass audience, and that's a shame, cos THE DUFF is a gem.
D.U.F.F. means Designated Ugly Fat Friend - now, the Duff doesn't necessarily have to be ugly or fat, they're just the least desirable member of a group. Compared to her friends Jess (Samuels) and Casey (Santos), Bianca is the DUFF, a fact brought to her attention by next-door neighbor/long-ago friend Wes (Amell), the football player with abs of steel . Understandably pissed at this new revelation that completely alters Bianca's perspective of her role in her friendships and self worth, Bianca cuts a deal with Wes - help her overcome her DUFFyness to ask out Cute Musician Boy Toby she's crushing on, and she'll help him pass his studies. It's a match made in screwed up heaven.
At the time of this review, I've watched THE DUFF twice, and hope to again before it leaves theaters (although that might not be too far in the future, thanks to rather weak box office receipts). It's that fun and that good. Mae Whitman's vulnerable yet tough performance as Bianca is impressive enough to easily tempt me to check out NBC's PARENTHOOD series, or at the very least, eagerly await whatever projects she has coming up in the pipeline. The script is funny, with great jokes, self-deprecating humor, a bit of a meta edge, and best of all, a tone that doesn't take itself too seriously. Amell is perfect as both encapsulating and then subverting the football jock stereotype, lending a certain charm and nuance to the role that could otherwise have been lost in the hands of another actor.
Thing is, THE DUFF just works. Right from the beginning, with its technology saturated opening exposition to a brilliant social media de-friending scene about halfway through the movie, to the hammy but enormously satisfying finale and YouTube-y closing credits, the tone works, and with two irresistibly attractive and endearing leads delivering the scripts sharp jokes, it's easy to get why multiple viewings only help make the viewer love it more (or maybe it's just me; for all I know, I'll convince you to see it, and you, gentle reader, will find it positively rubbish, but I properly don't think so).
Hell, any movie that makes Ken Jeong sufferable and even prompting a laugh-out-loud moment or two is well worth a recommendation. After five seasons on COMMUNITY trying my patience at every turn, it's a nice, very welcome chang of pace not to hate the guy (see what I did there?). If there's any criticism to be had, the movie does end a wee bit too quickly, culminating at a school dance where Bianca sort of abandons her friends without any exchange between the three parties. It's an off-putting moment that slightly dampers a victorious vibe. Earlier on, there's a hilarious CG-fail involving a lawn mower and clothes that is just so lazily put together, it adds its own layer of laughability.
All in all, THE DUFF, from a structural, storytelling standpoint, doesn't break any new ground, and similar to EASY A, it nails the Lesson We're Trying to Convey Here a bit too heavy on the nose, but the fact the leads are so damn good and funny, and the script barely goes a scene without a clever wit or charm easily makes this one of the more entertaining and fun times at the movies in quite a while. Strongly recommended, cos, y'know, laughing is good. And Mae Whitman is pretty.