tek's rating: ½

The DUFF (PG-13)
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I basically wanted to see this because it stars Mae Whitman, whose work I always enjoy. And once I actually watched it, I found that it had some other familiar actors, which was a nice bonus. I suppose I didn't know much about the actual plot before watching it, just that the title refers to the "Designated Ugly, Fat Friend." (Two adjectives it would never have occurred to me to associate with Whitman, but... well, normally I'd say something like "...but Hollywood." However, as one character points out in more than one scene of the movie, the term doesn't have to be taken literally, it's just an expression. A pretty crappy expression, but still.) Anyway... I expected the movie to be mostly a comedy, but again... the majority of the actual plot was unknown to me. And once I watched it, I thought it was a fairly familiar sort of romantic teen comedy, which I'd equate with things like "Can't Buy Me Love" and "She's All That." But of course this is more modern in some ways. (Obviously, each film is going to be a reflection of its time.) The point is, while I found it funny, I ultimately found it more romantic than I expected to.

So... Whitman plays a high school girl named Bianca Piper. Her two best friends are Jess (Skyler Samuels) and Casey, both of whom are obviously pretty and popular. And it's also pretty obvious that just about everyone in their school (including teachers) basically ignore Bianca while talking to Jess and Casey (though Bianca doesn't seem to fully notice that until later). Bianca also has a friend named Wesley Rush (Robbie Amell, whom I know from The Tomorrow People), who lives across the street from her, so they've known each other since they were babies. Wes is now a popular jock, whose ex-girlfriend, Madison (Bella Thorne), is the school's queen bee. Throughout the film, Madison gets jealous whenever she sees Wes talking with Bianca, which leads her to act like an asshole toward Bianca. Anyway... one day Wes tells Bianca that she's the DUFF among her trio of friends, and it's a term she'd never heard before. But while she's mad at him for saying such a thing, she soon comes to believe it's true, and that Jess and Casey were aware of it, that they'd made her their DUFF intentionally and never told her about it. It was, I think, pretty obvious that the two of them were unaware of any such thing, and genuinely thought of Bianca as their friend, but Bianca unfriends them anyway.

Later, Bianca asks Wes to give her dating advice, because she has a crush on a boy named Toby Tucker, but she gets so flustered around him she can never say more than two words. In exchange for Wes's help, Bianca will help him pass Chemistry, so that he can stay on the football team. Surprisingly enough, Wes actually seems to be really into his side of the deal, and really good at it. (It also seems pretty obvious that he has feelings beyond friendship for Bianca, but she's oblivious to that.) Unfortunately, one of Madison's friends sees the two of them together at the mall, makes a video of them with her phone, and later posts it online to humiliate Bianca. And... that's all I want to say about that.

There's also a teacher at school named Mr. Arthur (Ken Jeong), who assigned Bianca the task of writing about the homecoming dance for the school paper. Of course that will eventually tie into the main plot of the movie. Also, Bianca's mother, Dottie (Allison Janney), had become a motivational speaker sometime after getting divorced, so for most of the movie she's not very good at communicating with her daughter, because she relies too much on her standard talking points to really say anything specific to Bianca.

And I don't want to reveal any more of the plot. I'll just say that while the movie isn't truly great, it's still pretty good. I mean, I expected Whitman to be good, because she always is. But the movie itself is definitely better than I expected it to be. And it's more distinctive than I expected, despite having a predictably happy ending.


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