The Duff tries to follow this formula by (1) creating a term that is supposed to describe a school-time phenomenon and (2) give you an underdog-style character to root for. If this were the 90's, then this movie would be doomed to the tired old transformation plot that sort of defined Julia Stiles' movie career at the time.
To be fair, the movie has its moments and it certainly does make an effort not to follow tired old conventions here and there. But for the most part it still feels like just another of those sorts of movies and doesn't quite create a unique enough impression to break free of the mold. Taking things into perspective, Easy A managed to do more.
Synopsis: The Duff is a 2015 comedy movie directed by Ari Sandel. The screenplay was written by Josh A. Cagan based on the novel of the same name written by Kody Keplinger.
Bianca (Mae Whitman) is a high school senior and spends most of her time with her two friends Jess (Skyler Samuels) and Casey (Bianca Santos). But Jess and Casey are your classic pretty, popular girls, and everyone feels Bianca is like some odd third wheel that you have to just deal with in order to spend time with the others. Bianca has a crush on the musically-inclined Toby (Nick Eversman), and she's also a neighbor and childhood friend to football star Wes (Robbie Amell), although they haven't really been friends throughout high school.
In order to remotely have a chance to approach Toby, Bianca agrees to attend some big party hosted by the mean girls of the school. But while at the paty, Wes ends up telling her that she's obviously the "DUFF" of the group - the "Designated Ugly Fat Friend." He explains that the person is pretty much the one who has lower social standing and yet also more accessible to others, and thus largely ends up acting as a bridge for other people. The concept insults her and sets Bianca on a path of separating her from her friends and demanding that Wes somehow teach her to become more like a popular girl.
Now Mae Whitman has a decent roster of projects as part of her resume, but this might have not been the best role for her to try and be the lead. She's charming in a way and she has some spunk to her, but at the same time it wasn't quite enough to get her all the way to where she needed to be. She simply wasn't that powerful an on-screen presence for us as viewers to follow her around the whole time. One might argue that this is what the role demanded and thus her being unimpressive was sort of on point. But still, she's no Emma Stone, if we're going to compare.
The story in itself wasn't too bad and it had an interesting angle with this whole DUFF idea. As we look back at past teen movies of this genre, we see the pattern sort of followed time and time again. This movie just tries to give the practice a name in order to hopefully capitalize on things. I don't think the performance necessarily carries things all the way to the end in order to really sell the story to viewers.
I'm not quite sure what to make of the Wes character, since he's supposed to be eye candy but he also takes on the role often assigned to the "sensitive male friend" that we often see in such movies. But instead of also making him a loser who eventually gets stuck in the friend zone, we have a guy who is also popular and "successful" in terms of school and yet still open to helping out Bianca. The whole being neighbors bit sort of helps things along, but it did feel like sort of a stretch.
On the whole, the movie just came across as more than a little meh because maybe the writing wasn't strong enough or the delivery didn't necessarily sell the humor to us as viewers. There were a lot of potentially interesting moving pieces and all that fun stuff but it never quite came together to really be something memorable.
The Duff is a decent attempt to create a new term and tell a funny story. But I don't think it's half-hearted message of trying to unite social outcasts really came through in the end. So the movie only gets 3 moments that the movie does a decent effort to break stereotypes out of a possible 5.