You know the drill—high school is difficult and mean and hot and football and prom. But it’s 2015, so go ahead and hashtag some cyberbullying in there, plus a new acronym, of course: DUFF. The Designated Ugly Fat Friend who makes their friend group look better by comparison.
Bianca Piper (played by Mae Whitman) (Her?) (that was an Arrested Development reference) (Egg) (okay I’m done) is accidentally introduced to the term by hunktastic football-captain Wesley Rush, who points out that she is the DUFF of her friend trio. But don’t worry, he wasn’t trying to be mean—they’re childhood buddies/neighbors, and he assumed she already knew! A traumatized Bianca then dumps her two traditionally attractive BFFs (by unfriending/unfollowing them on every social-media app on the market—don’t worry, they name-drop every single one) and starts wearing pajamas to school, instead of her usual overall-flannel combo, because she’s FINE with the way she looks (which is neither fat, nor ugly, FYI, just kind of endearingly dumpy) and the person she is.
ALAS, THOUGH, Bianca caves to her insecurities and asks Wesley to help make her over in exchange for him not failing chemistry. He agrees and takes her bra shopping in a non-creepy, pro-posture way, and it seems like a pretty fun mall trip… except when the flunky of the hottest/meanest girl in school (aka Wesley’s on-again-off-again GF Madison) happens to capture Bianca elaborately goofing around, pretending to make out with a mannequin. A highly edited video of the event goes viral (the teens keep saying “viral”), devastation leads to life lessons, a surprise love twist, a last-minute article for the school newspaper on “What Prom Means to Me,” and… I don’t need to tell you where this is going.
Whitman carries the movie by playing an actually funny teenager whose wit, knack for facial expressions, and, dare I say, tasteful slapstick make her more entertaining than almost the rest of the entire cast put together—especially the adults (Ken Jeong plays Bianca’s desperate-to-be-funny journalism teacher; Allison Janney is unconvincing as Bianca’s self-help-obsessed mother).
The Duff attempts to add depth to the cliché-riddled teen-comedy genre—one of Bianca’s best friends, Casey, is not only a hottie but “a hacker” and a soccer maven; the football jock knows his Project Runway; Madison actually seems to be a kind of loner and is too one-dimensional to even be that threatening—but the heavy-handed “Be yourself! No matter what!” mantra is cheapened by the unsurprising ending: “Be yourself! But be a version of yourself that dresses better and wears more makeup, because that’s when the real you shines through!” You can add a slight wisp of feminism and a couple Snapchat references, but no ugly duckling goes un-lipsticked when your movie ends with a prom.