Leads carry charming but familiar story in ‘The DUFF’
In “The DUFF,” the title is an acronym for “Designated Ugly Fat Friend,” shorthand for the one member of a group who doesn’t quite fit in with the others. One doesn’t actually need to be ugly or fat to qualify for DUFF status, they only need to be an outsider within a designated clique. (Think of Ringo Starr as the DUFF of The Beatles.)
In a way, “The DUFF” is the DUFF of high school comedies. It subscribes to the familiar plot machinations of the genre, but tweaks them just enough to stand out from the pack, in a good way. It’s not “Clueless” or “The Breakfast Club,” it’s not even “Easy A,” but there’s a spot for it at the lunch table — even if it’s all the way down at the end.
It works mainly because of its leads. Mae Whitman, who essentially played the DUFF in “The Perks of Being a Wildflower,” stars as Bianca Piper, whose more popular friends Casey and Jess get all the attention in school. Her DUFF-ness (DUFF-osity?) is pointed out to her by her neighbor, Wesley (Robbie Amell), a jock who has an on-again, off-again relationship with the school’s resident ice queen, Madison (Bella Thorne).
Whitman, anchoring her first movie, has a natural chemistry with Amell, who charms in a role that could have been a standard issue jock part. A lot of the movie’s other floating pieces — Bianca’s quasi-romance with a longhaired, sensitive type; its centerpiece makeover montage (what’s a high school movie without a centerpiece makeover montage?); her journalism assignment that’s meant to bring everything together — don’t quite mesh, but Whitman and Amell carry it through.
The script, adapted from Kody Keplinger’s novel, gussies up teenage tropes with a flurry of tech-talk, leaving no current app unmentioned. But its themes are timeless, and “The DUFF” executes them well.
Rated PG-13 for crude and sexual material throughout, some language and teen partying
Running time: 100 minutes