Film: “The Duff”; Language: English; Cast: Mae Whitman, Robbie Amell, Bella Thorne, Bianca A. Santos, Nick Eversman Skyler Samuels, Ken Jeong, Allison Janney and Romany Malco; Director: Ari Sandel; Rating: **1/2
A teen comedy, “The Duff” is director Ari Sandel’s debut feature film which is based on author Kody Keplinger’s bestselling novel of the same name.
The title is an acronym for “The Designated Ugly Fat Friend”, whose drivel drives the plot. It is a predictable tale of high school romance between the “Duff” and the school’s most sought-after hunk.
Set in Malloy High School, Home of The Blue Devils, the film revolves around Bianca Piper who is a frumpy, opinionated teenager among her set of friends. One day at a party, the charming Wesley Rush, her neighbour and the school’s football captain, makes her realise that she is the “DUFF,” who boys impress to get to her friends Casey and Jesse.
Hurt, angry and wanting to prove a point to herself that she is not what others think her to be, she splits from her friends and embarks on a mission to woo Toby Tucker, the school musician, for whom her heart throbs.
Desperate for attention and realising that she is not capable of making friends with Toby, she turns to Wesley for help. Wesley initially is reluctant. But when she agrees to share her science notes with him, he readily agrees.
Their ‘you-scratch-my-back-I-scratch-yours’ friendship forms a major chunk of the narration. Wesley, like in George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, strategises and comes up with a plan, of how Bianca will have a makeover and then pursue Toby.
Soon the inevitable happens — social media and online rants upset their plans. The two learn they have more in common than they could ever have expected.
Director Ari Sandel plays it safe with a mildly generic tale that is oft-seen. His treatment of the film is bland with a few onscreen gimmicks and with no dramatic or revolutionary moments. With true-to-life characters with a great sense of humour, the romance is conventional beneath the moments of hilarity.
Spiced with snappy performances from its central cast — Mae Whitman as Bianca pulls off the ‘ugly duckling’ role with gusto. She charms you with her foibles. Robie Armell as Wesley Rush is charismatic too. Together their onscreen chemistry is amazing. Their moments of awkwardness and familiarity are palpable.
The two are ably supported by familiar archetypes — Bella Thorne as the beautiful and absolutely mean Madison, Bianca A. Santos and Skyler Samuels as Casey and Jess and Ken Jeong as Mr. Arthur, Bianca’s journalism professor. But it is Allison Janney as Dottie, Bianca’s mother, who has an edge over others. Her sad back-story and her inspirational outlook towards life is what adds the zing to her character.
Overall, “The Duff” is a feel-good, vanilla rom-com which is entertaining with some old-school charm that you can relate to.