The DUFF suffers from a self fulfilling prophecy thanks to the title, becoming the Designated Ugly Fat Friend introducing you to the world of high school hierarchy films, when what you really want to be watching is something as pretty and popular as Mean Girls and Easy A.
The DUFF tries to set itself apart by starting off stating that the typical cliques and high school labels are a thing of the past as people are more multifaceted than we gave them credit for in the past, but once this set up is out of the way we get right back to the typical aspects of these films. You’ve got the pretty people and the less pretty people, the extremely hot popular guy, the mean girl, and the “less attractive” person who isn’t enjoying high school as much as all the good looking people. In this case, this is “the DUFF.”
Bianca doesn’t take learning that she is the Designated Ugly Fat Friend well, not that she should, and she quickly decides that the best course of action is to burn her only bridges by defriending her two besties so that we don’t have to worry about them getting in the way of the relationship building between Bianca and the hot, popular Wesley. Unsurprisingly, his job is to help her through her makeover to becoming more of the person she thinks she needs to be. Oh, and of course to end up being the key love interest.
Even though it’s a well-worn story, the main problem is not how unoriginal The DUFF is within its genre seeing as plenty of the films have overcome this problem, it’s that a lot of the humor falls flat. The jokes are hit and miss, and a lot of the time when they do hit it’s thanks to the person performing the line or bit, making the most of what they’re given. You can definitely tell this is the case when it comes to the leads, Mae Whitman and Robbie Amell, and what success this film does achieve really has these two to thank. With plenty of scenes together, it’s easy to see they enjoyed working with each other, and the fun they have is contagious on more than one occasion. Unfortunately the same can’t be said for everyone, and even though strong comedic actors fill the peripheral roles, these characters end up being a huge disappointment.
Seeing as Mean Girls is the go to of the genre, let’s use it for the sake of comparison: Bella Thorne’s mean girl antagonizing Bianca in The DUFF is far from the memorable and highly quotable Regina George, and even more disappointing is that the staff of the school is just as forgettable: Romany Malco is not given a principal as strong as Tim Meadows was, and Ken Jeong is no buddy teacher like Tina Fey. Worst still, Allison Janney is completely wasted as Bianca’s mom. She has a few smile worthy interactions with Whitman in her role as a motivational speaker getting back out into the dating world, but I would take Patricia Clarkson and Stanley Tucci in Easy A any day. Now those were some well-written parents!
I wish I could recommend The DUFF because of how much I like the two leads, but instead it’s best just to revisit some “classics” that handled the material better. Mean Girls and Easy A are the obvious choices seeing as I mentioned them more than once during this write up, but there’s plenty more out there higher up in the hierarchy, like She’s All That, 10 Things I hate About You, and The Breakfast Club. Heck, even John Tucker Must Die is a better option.