Reel Shorts | The Duff


A smart, yet clueless high-school student’s life takes a drastic turn when she discovers and then changes the perception of her in the high-school comedy, The Duff.

For the past thirty years, Hollywood has gone out of its way to show just how difficult the high school years are. Countless films have documented adolescents and their challenges as they often awkwardly come of age. In The Duff, Bianca Piper (Mae Whitman) and her two BFFs, Casey (Bianca A. Santos) and Jess (Skyler Samuels) are constantly making the social scene. While her two friends are smoking hot, Bianca is comfortable in her skin, even if she clearly stands out from the rest. In the pantheon of her friends, Bianca is the “smart one,” who perfectly compliments her friends whose social skills trump hers.

But soon she would make a startling discovery when during a routine party, Bianca re-connects with her next-door neighbor and childhood friend, Wesley Rush (Robbie Amell). He informs the naive Bianca that it is not coincidental that her two closest friends are so much hotter than she is. In her group, Wesley tells her, she is the DUFF also known as the “designated ugly fat friend.” Horrified, Bianca recoils at the accusation but after careful reflection, discovers that there is some truth to his statement.

Of course, Bianca is too smart to not change her station and her opportunity comes when Wesley is in danger of flunking out and the two former friends reach a bargain: in exchange for Bianca’s help with his studies, he will transform her from non-DUFF status.

Since this is a high-school comedy and most students are mean, it is only a matter of time before the school witch, Madison (Bella Thorne) throws SERIOUS salt in Bianca’s game. It also doesn’t help that she and Wesley have a dysfunctional on-again-off-again relationship status as the “hot couple” of their high-school class. As Bianca and Wesley begin hanging out to help one another, Madison and her crew of haters make Bianca’s life miserable at every turn.

There is no shortage of recent high-school comedies that this film rips off, most notably the tone of the popular Tina Fey scripted film, Mean Girls. Much of the humor in the first two acts is solely based on incredibly shallow and aggressively disrespectful behavior showing the entire student body emotionally attacking a fellow student for their pure pleasure. Even though the film is played for laughs, it’s hard to believe that any school in America would tolerate some of the antics that are shown in this story.

This uneven screenplay written by Josh A. Cagan, based on Kody Keplinger’s novel of the same name, is reflective of Keplinger’s experience as a high school student. The fact that the cinematic fingerprints of other popular high-school-teen films, Some Kind of Wonderful, the aforementioned Mean Girls, The Hottie and the Nottie, The Perks of Being a Wallflower (which Whitman appeared in), Easy A, Heathers, Clueless and 10 Things I Hate About You are all over this story.

There are only so many ways to tell this story and The Duff liberally explores every earlier storytelling device known to this genre. There is the customary slow-motion shot of the crew walking down the hallway, as the student body parts: the victimized student, the mean, privileged baddie, the cool jock with a heart of gold, as well as the sympathetic educator who ultimately helps the student see the light.

While not in the same league as previous high-school heroines such as Lindsay Lohan or Emma Stone, Whitman is clearly the best reason to watch this film. Not given much to do or possessing a great script, she does the best she can, even under the threat of being typecast as the “average” looking high school girl.” After a putrid rocky start, the film’s greatest achievement is its ability to conclude as average.

How many ways can movies show that high school is a “living hell?” This tragic comedy of a group of severely broken high-school students masquerading as a lesson in self-discovery is inauthentic as the crappy title axiom. The Duff is a story that makes moviegoers feel like “designated unfortunate film fools!”

Grade: D+