Cinematic Releases: The Duff

We're a couple days behind on this one, but check out our review of The DUFF.

"It's true of a-holes too!"
It’s important to note at the outset of this review that I am not a teenage girl. I don’t use Pinterest and I’ve never Snapchatted. I am, without question, not the intended audience for teen romantic comedy, The DUFF. Despite this significant fact, The DUFF was a more enjoyable experience than I had anticipated, but it is certainly not without flaw.

The DUFF is formulaic, occasionally cringe-worthy, and often sounds as though it was written by a room full of adults trying to conjure up “What the kids are saying these days.” The formula is standard modern John Hughes inspired high school comedy. The title alone tells us (DUFF stands for “Designated Ugly Fat Friend,” as every trailer and teaser for the film will immediately tell you) that The DUFF is a fish-out-of-water, ugly duckling story in the vein of She’s All That or Never Been Kissed

The DUFF has enough funny moments and heart to compete with movies of that caliber, but falls flat when compared to the John Hughes classics or modern greats like Easy A. To be frank, the biggest issue The DUFF has is that it exists in a world where a movie like Easy A accomplishes so much more with a very similar formula. The DUFF does manage to capture the modern realities of high school at times, riffing on the overexposure of teenage faces in a world where every mean girl carries a camera phone with her at all times. And yet, the dialogue often destroys the reality that the writers have crafted, failing to capture the particular blend of lunacy that seems to possess the speech of today’s teens.

"No, not Janey Briggs. She's got glasses.
And a ponytail.
Ugh, she's got paint on
her overalls.
What is that?"
Despite its flaws, The DUFF does manage to hit a few solid chords. The casting is quite good. Mae Whitman, our titular character (Her?) is perfectly believable as the approachably cute and clever girl with the hot friends. She’s awkward and likeable, and more than adequately relatable. Ken Jeong more or less reprises his Community role as a slightly less insane teacher, and managed to achieve a few laughs from the theater’s teen-heavy audience. Perhaps best cast is our cliché jock leading man, Robbie Arnell. Arnell nails the overconfident über-bro, almost to a satirical level, reminiscent of Chris Evans’ turn as Jake Wyler in Not Another Teen Movie. Like Evans, Arnell has definite hero potential (and is already apparently doing so as Firestorm in CW’s The Flash) and we should expect to see more of him in the future. 

Also, while closely following the formula laid out by other, arguably better, romantic comedies and teen movies, The DUFF does manage to achieve its most important goal – it’s pretty darn fun. It doesn’t have the genre defying quality of American Pie nor the sheer wit of Easy A, but it’s still worth catching.

- Patrick B. McDonald