'The DUFF' provides pleasant surprise

“The DUFF” is a fairly predictable entry into the teen genre that is elevated thanks to an incredibly charming lead performance from Mae Whitman.

Whitman may be several years removed from her high school years, already in her mid-20s, but she tackles the material with such gusto and life, watching “The DUFF” is well worth your time.

Whitman plays Bianca, a high school senior enjoying her life as the friend of the more popular and prettier duo of Casey (Bianca A. Santos) and Jess (Skyler Samuels). 

When her next-door neighbor and school quarterback Wesley (Robbie Amell) tells Bianca that she is known as the DUFF of her circle of friends, she sets out to change that, with a little help from Wesley. DUFF is an acronym for Designated Ugly Fat Friend (the film makes a point of saying this is a more general term than an actual description of people labeled DUFFs). 

Bianca sets her sights on her crush Toby (Nick Eversman) and enlists the help of Wesley to help her transform, much to the dismay of Wesley’s ex, Madison (Bella Thorne).

Josh A. Cagan’s screenplay, based on a novel by Kody Keplinger, is for the most part pretty clever, avoiding many of the genre’s fatal cliches.

The story arc may be predictable, but the route to the final destination takes a few surprising twists, giving “The DUFF” a fresh spin.

The young cast is good, especially the chemistry between Whitman and Amell, while Allison Janney and Ken Jeong are surprising in the designated adult roles that also have a few unexpected wrinkles.

But the big star here is Whitman. After smaller roles in “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” and TV’s “Arrested Development,” this is the performance that should put her on the map.

She has a natural charm that the audience can identify with, making “The DUFF” a pleasant surprise – even for older folks like me.

— After another successful Oscar prognostication season, Micheal Compton is already working on next year’s Oscar predictions. Follow Micheal on his blog at bgdailynews.com/sports/blogs/straight_outta_compton or on Twitter at twitter.com/mcompton428. Email him at mcompton@bgdailynews.com


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