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DUFF: disgusting, unfunny, festering and foul

Avert your eyes, Robbie Amell, Mae Whitman is hideous! Clearly she shouldn't be out in public... or at least, that's what The DUFF's twisted message tries to tell us.


Avert your eyes, Robbie Amell, Mae Whitman is hideous! Clearly she shouldn't be out in public... or at least, that's what The DUFF's twisted message tries to tell us.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 20/2/2015 (2047 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

On rare occasions, a teen comedy will surprise you with its smarts, its heart and its comic invention.

This is not that movie. But at least it does appear to have been inspired by a film answering that description.

The DUFF shows us what would have happened if the 2010 comedy Easy A had been written and directed by hacks.

It's all about a high school ugly duckling shocked to discover her place in high school society is as the "DUFF," a stupid, cruel acronym denoting "designated ugly fat friend."

It need hardly be added that our heroine Bianca (Mae Whitman, perhaps best known as the demonic "evil ex" Roxy Richter in Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World) is neither fat nor ugly. As per Hollywood formula, if you put a beautiful young woman in overalls and minimize her makeup, she will qualify as a boy-repelling weirdo, no matter how stunning she happens to look. (See also: She's All That.)

Anyway, Bianca gets the news of her status from Wesley (Robbie Amell), the jock who lives next door to her. She's quite right to react by throwing her drink in his face.

Disappointingly, though, Bianca buys into the designation. So she parts ways with her two more conventionally beautiful best friends Jess and Casey (Skyler Samuels and Bianca A. Santos), both of whom are dismayingly utilitarian characters. (One is described as a budding fashion designer and the other is a "hacker." Think those talents might come into play later?)

Resolved to take a shot at her longtime crush Toby (Nick Eversman), Bianca turns to Wesley -- yes, the very person who planted the "DUFF" label on her in the first place -- in an exchange of services: she'll help him pass chemistry if he does a Prof. Henry Higgins on her and helps transform the ugly duckling into a swan.

The beautiful but belligerent fly in the ointment is Wesley's icy, beautiful, on-again/off-again girlfriend Madison (Bella Thorne). Thorne herself played the oddball teen girl in the comedy Blended, which should tell you something.

Madison is an aspiring "reality star" (?!) and one of those mean girls who will stop at nothing to destroy anyone who threatens to have a relationship with her guy, no matter what the state of their friendship. In this movie, that will encompass some vicious cyber-bullying following Bianca's caught-on-video shopping spree with Wesley. Romantic tribulation ensues.

You wouldn't credit any Oscar-worthy talent behind the scenes here, but director Ari Sandel actually did win that award for his 2011 short film West Bank Story. But he doesn't demonstrate any talent for long-form comedy here, though he does try to beef up the humour value by casting a couple of dependable pros -- Ken Jeong and Allison Janney -- as concerned adults in Bianca's life.

It doesn't help. As much as the film attempts to follow in the Easy A template, it lacks its satiric edge, and its willingness to confront high school hypocrisy head-on.

This movie does more harm than good, especially that plot machination wherein Bianca essentially works to get the approval of her abuser. That dynamic is sufficiently unsettling as to give Fifty Shades of Grey a run for its money.


Randall King

Randall King

In a way, Randall King was born into the entertainment beat.

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Updated on Friday, February 20, 2015 at 8:59 AM CST: Replaces photo

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