The DUFF is a bit like the Mean Girls of this decade. It’s the story of a frumpy, slightly weird but bubbly teenager, Bianca Piper (Mae Whitman). Bianca appears content with not being as popular and pretty as her two best friends, but when she finds out some of her peers consider her a DUFF (Designated Ugly Fat Friend), she’s shocked and offended. The DUFF does not necessarily have to be ugly or fat, but he or she is the least popular of a group of friends, the approachable one, the person you go to for more information on other members of the clique.
In order shake off her status, Bianca asks her childhood friend and popular jock, Wesley (Robbie Amell), to give her some advice. There’s a hot guy she wants to impress and her DUFF-ness means she doesn’t have the confidence. In Pretty Woman fashion, Wes takes her shopping to get rid of the flannel shirt and dungarees-look, and makes her practice flirting with guys.
The film also examines cyber-bullying and the downright viciousness of the typically popular high school crowd in the age of social media. The school’s prettiest (and bitchiest) girl, Morgan (Bella Thorne), videos her entire life to broadcast on a YouTube channel in the ridiculous hope of becoming a famous reality star.
The DUFF is a teen movie cliché but has some fun moments, though it can’t compare to the more wry comedy of Mean Girls. Bianca’s journey of self-discovery and her fightback against humiliation are sweet and sometimes humorous. Whitman is cute and likeable, being of the Disney channel fame. Having been a bit of an outsider myself in high school, I found myself smiling wryly at the self-consciousness and rejection that characterise the lives of many teens.
Rating: 3½ out of 5
Director: Ari Sandel
Cast: Mae Whitman, Robbie Amell, Bella Thorne, Allison Janney, Bianca Santos, Ken Jeong
– Releases in South Africa 01 May 2015