Movie Review: 'The Duff'

PHOTO: Mae Whitman, left, and Bella Thorne appear in a scene from "The DUFF."Guy D Alema/CBS Films/AP Photo
Mae Whitman, left, and Bella Thorne appear in a scene from "The DUFF."

Starring Mae Whitman

Rated: PG-13

Three out of five stars

"The Duff" is based on a book by Kody Keplinger called "The DUFF: Designated Ugly Fat Friend." It's essentially a combination of various John Hughes movies with a sprinkle of "She's All That."

The day Bianca Piper (Mae Whitman) finds out she's a DUFF is the day that changes her life forever. Bianca is what some would consider frumpy, but she's hardly fat. Her two best friends, Casey (Bianca Santos) and Jess (Skylar Samuels), however, are gorgeous.

We learn about all the main players through a voiceover from Bianca, accompanied by hashtags on the screen next to the person she's describing. Not only are we introduced to her besties, we're also introduced to the worst person on the planet, Madison (Bella Thorne), who is just as evil as she is pretty; Toby (Nick Evesman), the guy Bianca has a crush on; and her neighbor, Wesley (Robbie Amell, who plays Firestorm on The Flash), who she's known since she was a baby. He's grown up to be an obnoxious Tom Cruise lookalike, a ladies man and the captain of the football team.

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It's Wesley who informs Bianca that she is the DUFF. At first, Bianca rejects Wesley's rude thesis, but once she does a little research, which features an amusing sequence, she realizes that she is, in fact, Casey and Jess's DUFF. Bianca confronts her confused buddies in the school library and hilariously breaks up with them, unfriending and unfollowing them on Facebook and Twitter, and warning them not to troll her Pinterest, either.

Bianca is now a free woman, but she's still awkward, especially when it comes to her crush, Toby. She decides to turn to the guy who made her aware of her DUFFness in the first place: Wesley. She offers to help him get his science grades up if he helps her become "the dateable one," or, as Wesley calls it, "the reverse DUFF."

"The Duff" tries too hard to be cool instead of actually being cool. I get it -- high school kids are dependent on their cell phones and social networks, but this movie goes out of its way to make sure the audience knows that. Sometimes less is more. Also, it would be nice if, while making a movie about teenagers, you actually cast actors who were just two or three years removed from being teenagers, instead of six or seven.

I don't doubt that teen girls will find great satisfaction in some of the movie's more tender moments. Sadly, those moments, like so many others in "The Duff," feel like they were engineered in a lab specifically for teen girls to have those very reactions. The good news is that Mae Whitman, an actress who's had a considerable amount of success doing voiceover work, is delightful when she's in front of the camera. She helps elevate a predictable story into one many won't mind watching.