Ever since John Hughes’ “The Breakfast Club,” teen rom-coms have been a popular genre – with updates like “Mean Girls” and “Easy A.” But they were before the onslaught of digital devices and social media.
Bianca Piper (Mae Whitman) is a happy, honor-roll high school senior until her next-door neighbor, football-captain Wesley Rush (Robbie Amell), jokingly tells her that she’s known as the DUFF – or Designated Ugly Fat Friend – to her popular and gorgeous peers, Jess (Skyler Samuels) and Casey (Bianca Santos). Read on…
Not surprisingly, this ridicule sends her into a tailspin. While her recently divorced mom (Alison Janney) tries to placate her, Bianca’s self-confidence is shattered. Miserable, she spins into action, un-friending, un-following and disconnecting her BFFs’ Twitter, Facebook, Tumblir and other accounts.
Determined, defiant Bianca then decides to re-make her dorky reputation by striking a deal with perceptive Wes. She agrees to help him pass chemistry to save his threatened athletic scholarship to Ohio State, and he promises to teach her how to attract the guitar-strumming guy (Nick Everman) she secretly adores.
Even an embarrassing dressing-room disaster caught on a frenemy’s video that goes viral does not deter her. Predictably, resilient Bianca emerges triumphant from this identity crisis.
Based on the YA novel by Kody Keplinger, it’s formulaically adapted by Josh A. Cagan and amiably directed by Ari Sandel, juggling comedy with romance and pathos.
Primary credit goes to Mae Whitman, best known for her roles on TV’s “Arrested Development” and “Parenthood.” Sassy and savvy, Whitman’s comic timing is superb. Indeed, the entire cast is so likable that it’s easy to ignore the fact these so-called teenagers are really in their 20s.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The DUFF” is a subversively snarky, yet sensitive 6, updating George Bernard Shaw’s “Pygmalion” with 21st century technology.