The high school comedy genre features some movies that almost seem to make you forget the sheer amount of terrible films that fall into this category. Films like Mean Girls, Easy A, and now The DUFF, all succeed in doing the very obvious, yet often overlooked, thing that all comedies must; and that is making you laugh. It would be laughable to suggest that this film compares to the cult excellence of the likes of Napoleon Dynamite, Dazed and Confused or The Breakfast Club, but The DUFF isn’t trying to be like those films. It sets itself out as a cheesy, light-hearted and amusing comedy, and it very much flourishes in these respects.
It is extremely hard (read impossible) for a comedy centered around a high school outcast overcoming adversity to win the love of their life to be original. Yet despite the many tropes and clichés present in the film, from the archetypal characters present to the inevitable finale at, you guessed it, the homecoming dance, the film delivers them all with a refreshing undertone of novelty. Even the self-awareness of these tropes has become a cliché in itself, but The DUFF understands that through good humour, these repetitions can be overlooked, although before you get carried away and begin to expect an onslaught of hilarious jokes, there are a fair few that fall flat. We may wonder what it is about adults writing for teenagers, but there seems to be a vast disconnect between the two when it comes to social media, and the constant references to Facebook, Twitter and the rest do nothing to make the film more enjoyable or relatable to a young audience.
Although some of the casting was predictable (read lazy), Mae Whitman as protagonist Bianca was a match made in heaven. As solid a performance as you can ever hope to experience in a film of this type, Whitman’s comic timing was testament to her experience, and provided she keeps her youthful looks through her late twenties, there is no reason for her not to be picking up the lead in more features to come. The lazy casting primarily came in the form of the “queen bee”. Bella Thorne as the Regina George-esque mean girl of the school was nothing new. The role of the pretty bully has simply been overdone and needs an inventive overhaul before any actress can thrive in the role as Rachel McAdams did in 2004. The rest of the ensemble all put in adequate-to-good performances. Robbie Amell as the hunky heart-throb seemed an idle choice at times, but his on-screen chemistry with Whitman made up for his otherwise average showing, whilst Allison Janney is superb as the single mother character, comically trying her hand at online dating for the first time.
Whilst the film does often succeed in being funny; it also has its failings. The DUFF’s attempt to touch on serious matters such as the breaking up of a family, but then to so quickly dismiss the matter, was weak; and whilst the role of Whitman can be praised, it would perhaps be even more refreshing if for once the lead ‘outcast’ wasn’t in fact a genuinely attractive female. Do we ever honestly believe that Whitman isn’t going to turn up to homecoming looking nothing but beautiful? Despite a few shortcomings, The DUFF is a genuinely funny and often touching comedy which, if seen by enough people, will have its place in teenage sleepover history.