Alarm bells ring as Ari Sandel directs The DUFF, the latest attempt at the American high school dramedy genre. Adapted from Kody Keplinger’s novel, the multi-media makeover is definitely something worth subscribing too. Acting favourites Mae Whitman and Ken Jeong also get an A for effort, but as for the movie itself, the jury’s still out on whether it needs to repeat senior year. Class is well and truly in session.
Childhood besties Bianca (Whitman), Jess (Skyler Samuels), and Casey (Bianca A. Santos) are perfectly content in their best friend bubble until neighbour and classmate Wesley (Robbie Amell) drops the ball, unwittingly telling Bianca at a party that the entire school branded her the DUFF (Designated Ugly Fat Friend) of the three. Determined to break free from the shackles of her new found label, she trail-blazes her way through the school, setting out to win over musical heartthrob, Toby (Nick Eversman) in the hope of revolutionising the social pecking order. Aiding her in this conquest is Wesley, the man-whore who agrees to school her in the ways of dating in return for some science tuition to help him boost his grades and keep him on the football team.
Sounds like every other teenager angst movie already, right? But creative quirks and add-ons soon pull you into this movie’s online world of socialising as The DUFF impressively integrates the wonders of the Internet with its film-making. Editing is bold and used to brilliant effect as vlogging and ‘going viral’ take centre stage in this modern and very (wait for it) “Pinteresting” tale.
Yet despite its witty, charming and light-hearted characters that genuinely and admirably go against the grain, the film unfortunately fails to avoid the clichés, and stumbles into a few of the usual traps, making very easy guesswork of the plot. Although I’m proud to admit that I thoroughly enjoyed this movie anyway, I must honestly and regrettably listen to the voice in my head, and sadly admit that the latter half of Sandel’s work only confirmed the fact that this genre no longer surprises me.
With a film that name-drops the title in the first ten minutes and delivers on every predictable plot twist in the book, The DUFFS’s redeemable quality is in the ending’s feel-good factor, but like all movies of this well-established genre, it’s another melancholy reminder that nobody can ever seem to do this like John Hughes did.
While it’s an emphatic yes from my heart, I find myself shaking my head and folding my arms in #disappointment. It’s not that it’s a bad movie, and it’s certainly more than watchable with a cast and crew who undoubtedly deserve top marks in their assignment, but it includes every predictable high school movie cliché you’d expect to encounter.