Star Rating:

The Duff

Director: Ari Sandel

Actors: Bella Thorne, Mae Whitman, Ken Jeong

Release Date: Monday 6th April 2015

Genre(s): Factual

Running time: 101 minutes

High-school comedies have become so popular now that it's impossible to watch any new entries to the genre without invariably comparing it to what's come before. Nowadays, high-school comedies are more about attempting to subvert the tropes. Some have been hugely successful, ala Mean Girls. Many, however, have not.

Arrested Development's Mae Whitman is Bianca, a relatively content teenager with two impossibly good-looking friends. Like any teenager, she has a crush on the boy with the long hair and guitar. When she fails to woo him, it's revealed to her by her jock-but-heart-of-gold neighbour Wes (Robbie Amell) that she's a DUFF, an acronym for Designated Ugly Fat Friend. Charming, right?

When confronted by this, she distances herself from her good-looking friends and attempts to strike out on her own.She employs Wes to help show her the ways of being cool in exchange for helping with his school-work. However, standing in their way and constantly posting catty videos is glamourous Alpha-type Madison, played by Bella Thorne.

It becomes clear very quickly into The Duff that isn't even attempting to be different or even remotely smart, instead plundering just about every high-school comedy from the last twenty years. Juno, Mean Girls, Easy A and countless others are referenced or nodded to. Even the cast is borrowed from these, with Juno / 10 Things I Hate About You alum Allison Janney turning up as the mother to the titular character. Director Ari Sandel made a splash some years ago with the Oscar-winning short West Bank Story, but has been largely working in TV since then.

His direction is largely competent, but the script is so painfully bland and repetitive that you can see the turns from the very outset. Mae Whitman, as we know, is a noted comedic actress and there's a wealth of talent in the supporting cast. Ken Jeong, Allison Janney, and Romany Malco are underutilised throughout and their blink-and-you'll-miss-them moments only serve as a reminder that The Duff is a missed opportunity.