Movie Review - The Duff - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

Movie Review - The Duff

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Robbie Amell (left) and Mae Whitman in 'The Duff' Robbie Amell (left) and Mae Whitman in 'The Duff'
Mae Whitman first impressed me in Arrested Development, which she played an awkwardly religious teenager. Yet, that show was over ten years ago. A decade goes by and her still playing a teenager can be seen as either a good thing or bad thing. She stars as Bianca Piper, a junior or senior at Malloy High School who is a writer for the school newspaper and who realizes she's something called "the duff," or D.U.F.F., which stands for Designated Ugly Fat Friend.

Robbie Amell co-stars as Wesley Rush, the next-door neighbor of Bianca who is the school's top jock. He's also described as a man-whore. It's not confirmed how promiscuous he actually is, but he clearly has a reputation of being a ladies man, which is non-surprising because as I described in my review of Amell in The Tomorrow People, Amell is a dead ringer, or has a strong resemblance to a young Tom Cruise, not only in looks but also in charm. Yet, he's probably a bit taller.

The premise is that Bianca has a crush on a teenage musician named Toby Tucker, played by Nick Eversman (Wild and Get On Up). Because Wesley tells her that she's a duff, she asks him for a kind of makeover as well as for dating tips to help her approach and go out with Toby. In a way, it's the Millennial generation's version of She's All That (1999), My Fair Lady (1964), or yet another interpretation or riff of Pygmalion.

The Millennial generation's only addition is the social media aspect. There are constant references to Twitter, YouTube and dating sites. There's lip service given to cyber-bullying but it's mocked. It's all fodder for the comedy here. At least, it's not condescension on the part of screenwriter Josh A. Cagan. Cagan is a bit obvious in other ways, which might be attributable to the novel by Kody Keplinger on which this is based.

This movie is an out-and-out, romantic comedy. It's about two people who fall in love and the funny trappings that hinder that. Presumably, Bianca and Toby seem like the pair in question. Cagan shows too much of his hand when the predominance of the scenes is Bianca and Wesley. Toby isn't even given a chance, which is the principal problem.

The film would have worked better if it were a true love triangle or a triangle where the outcome weren't so predictable. Cagan undercuts Toby completely, hitting the audience over the head with the choice that Bianca was clearly being pushed to make. The film would have worked better if each option were balanced.

While both Whitman and Amell aren't all that believable in their roles, they do have great chemistry and are funny. From a dance montage to a mock porn video, the movie has some good laughs. Supporting characters like Allison Janney, Romany Malco and Ken Jeong buttress the film as well. It's not as good a teen comedy as the recent G.B.F. (2014), but there are sweet moments like the kissing lesson and a good message, that of the acceptance of one's self.

Five Stars out of Five.
Rated PG-13 for crude and sexual material throughout, some language and teen partying.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 41 mins.
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