Mae Whitman and Robbie Amell make an announcement in The DUFF. These two’s chemistry elevates what could have been an only directed at teens comedy into a film that actually has a slightly broader appeal than expected.
The messages and themes of the film, based on the bestselling book by Kody Keplinger, come alive thanks to the talent and tenacity of Whitman in particular. Because of Amell’s screen presence, the duo make the most unlikely of cinematic dream teams.
Don’t get us wrong, The DUFF is still directed firmly at teens and we suspect this is the type of film that those of that age today will look back on in 30 years the same way this writer gazes back at The Breakfast Club. It is a film that makes you look at yourself (at that age) and see that your quirks and your “faults” are actually what make you uniquely you.
Whitman is Bianca and Amell is her good friend/lifelong next door neighbor/most popular kid in school Wesley. One night at a party when Bianca is there with her two besties (Bianca A. Santos’ Casey and Skyler Samuels’ Jess), Wesley makes the mistake of letting Bianca in on a little unspoken social secret. She’s a DUFF: A designated ugly fat friend.
A “What did you say to me?” from Bianca turns into a well laid out (dramatically) five steps of tragedy. This news rocks her world. Of course, her friends deny even knowing what a DUFF is, much less that it was remotely something done on purpose. Bianca goes from denial, to anger and, yes, by the end of the film acceptance. But it is handled in such a way that is not at all what one would expect from a teen movie of late.
Save Whitman’s recent The Perks of Being a Wallflower, teen movies have had an easier time going for stereotypes and labeling than character building. Josh A. Cagan’s screenplay adaptation from Keplinger’s book definitely has the teen movie archetypes, but that is merely where these characters begin... it is nowhere near where they end.
That is largely achieved through Bianca and Wesley, who carry the film -- particularly from the performance of Whitman. She is a revelation. What she teased in tone perfect teen angst in The Perks of Being a Wallflower becomes a full bloom of brilliance in her latest.
Bella Thorne rocks as the mean girl. Thorne’s portrayal is imperative to the entire evolution and character arc of Bianca having resonance and believability. Without the villain, the hero is limp and that is not the case here -- although we have a bit of an issue and it is not Thorne’s fault. After seeing her basically serve the same role in Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, we’re afraid she’s in danger of being typecast. She’s too good for that.
The reason why we think that The DUFF could be seen as universal is that being comfortable in one’s own skin is not a process that ends when we graduate high school. It is an ongoing journey that has to incorporate the ever-changing dynamics of our evolving social circles, familial commitments and professional ambitions, all with the never-stopping addition of age.
But, our The DUFF review has to point out that, yes, teens will definitely be the ones who turn out in droves for this film. And they won’t be disappointed.