Sunday, May 03, 2015

The Duff - a standard issue

movie review

The Duff is a typical high school survival guide

The Duff

Starring: Mae Whitman, Robbie Amell, Bella Thorne, Bianca A. Santos, Skyler Samuels, Romany Malco, Chris Wylde, and Allison Janney
Directed by: Ari Sandel
Tagline: You either know one, you have one, or you are one.

Even though teen movies usually revolve around the same stereotypes and cliches, they remain popular with their target audience, partly because of their ability to give viewers a chance to root for the underdogs and watch mean kids receive their comeuppance. New teen comedy The Duff employs the same formulas that we are already familiar with, and does so amusingly, albeit unexceptionally.

The story revolves around high school student Bianca (Mae Whitman), an intelligent teenager who is close friends with the popular Jess (Skyler Samuels) and Casey (Bianca A Santos), while being tormented by mean girl Madison (Bella Thorne). But when her neighbour, jock Wesley (Robbie Amell), offers unsolicited insight into her role in the social hierarchy and informs her that she is a ‘Duff’ — the designated ugly, fat friend to her stylish besties — Bianca is left devastated.

Before you point out that the lovely Mae Whitman is neither fat nor ugly, the movie clarifies that the term isn’t a literal identifier and just refers to the person in a clique who simply “doesn’t look as good” as the others. Determined to overcome her wallflower status, Bianca seeks Wesley’s help to teach her how to attract the guy she is pining over (Nick Eversman), in exchange for helping him pass chemistry.

Events thereafter unfold dutifully and predictably. Director Ari Sandel’s attempts at making the film appear modern begin and end with references to social media and viral videos that are shoehorned into the proceedings, but nothing particularly innovative or subversive ever happens.

Yet, the film is quite charming, thanks in no small part to Whitman and her co-star Amell, who try to make the most of the very average story and script they have to work with. The leads work really well together; not only does their chemistry make the film feel genuine, but also infuses the movie with much-needed nuance. Whitman in particular is a delight, and her performance will compel viewers to identify with Bianca and be invested in her story.

Coated in amusing banter and peppered with silly antics, The Duff revisits the topic of high school pettiness and leaves you with the standard message of self-acceptance, but the movie is never as biting, engaging or funny as the more memorable teen films, like Mean Girls and Easy A. Still, amiable performances by its main cast help win over the audience and ensure that the proceedings are relatable, although the movie itself ultimately doesn’t succeed in rising above the predictability of its genre.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5

- By Sameen Amer

Sunday Magazine, The Express Tribune - 3rd May, 2015 *

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