The Duff
4/5 MUST must see SEE
dir Ari Sandel
scr Josh A Cagan
prd McG, Mary Viola, Susan Cartsonis
with Mae Whitman, Robbie Amell, Bella Thorne, Bianca A Santos, Skyler Samuels, Nick Eversman, Allison Janney, Ken Jeong, Romany Malco, Chris Wylde, Rebecca Weil, Seth Meriwether
release US 20.Feb.15, UK 10.Apr.15
15/US CBS 1h41
The Duff
Private lessons: Amell and Whitman

thorne janney jeong
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
The Duff With a smart, funny script and a very talented cast, this teen comedy punches well above its weight, managing to make the usual cliched formula both entertaining and surprisingly involving. Along with a refreshingly grown-up approach, this clever film acknowledges its debt to classic teen movies while adding some insight of its own.

Individualistic 17-year-old Bianca (Whitman) is horrified when her hot jock neighbour Wesley (Amell) calls her a duff, a "designated ugly fat friend". No, Bianca is neither ugly nor fat, but she is the most accessible among her best pals Casey and Jess (Santos and Samuels). So Bianca sets out to change this, swapping chemistry tutoring for social advice from Wesley, whose on-off girlfriend (Thorne) is the school's alpha-female. Bianca's goal is to build enough confidence to talk to dreamy music student Toby (Eversman). And her self-help guru mother (Janney) likes seeing Bianca being proactive.

The film opens with a nod to The Breakfast Club's depiction of the various groups of teens, then spends the next 100 minutes playing merrily with the stereotypes, including the concept of the duff. Cagan's script is so knowingly well-written that virtually every exchange of dialog hits a nerve, eliciting constant laughter from the audience due to the snappy humour, hilarious references and resonant observations.

At the centre, Whitman is terrific as Bianca, who hates the fact that her journalism teacher (Jeong) has assigned her to write an article about homecoming. Yes, Bianca is essentially the brainy character who's actually gorgeous under her nerd specs and flannel shirts, but the twist is that she's dressing down deliberately. Until, that is, she realises that she's the third, less attractive Charlie's Angel. And that even her car's a duff! Whitman also has great chemistry with the lively Amell. And Janney shamelessly steals scenes as Bianca's overconfident and therefore badly single mum.

This is a fast, snappy film packed with so many hilarious details that it will reward repeat viewings. It also makes some strong comments on both the horrors of high school hierarchy and the carnage of social media when the wrong thing goes viral (it's especially nice that Bianca owns it rather than letting it crush her). Even more interesting is the way the film takes on pressure from peers and parents, as each teen struggles to define themselves rather than have some image foisted on them. Which of course isn't something that stops after adolescence.

cert 15 themes, language, innuendo 3.Mar.15

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