Just as there is little hope of avoiding high school and all its attendant social traumas, so too must we expect Hollywood to roll out new comic versions of surviving the years between 14 and 18. The latest is The DUFF, adapted from Kody Keplinger's young-adult novel, and directed by Ari Sandel.
Bianca (Arrested Development's Mae Whitman) is a tomboyish, smart and sassy teen who is relatively happy; she has two great best friends and isn't caught up in the school's cliques and mean-girl dramas. Until she gets pegged "the DUFF," or the Designated Ugly Fat Friend, whose role is to be an accessible buffer between the world and her better-looking, better-connected, less-attainable friends. (Yeah, Whitman isn't fat or ugly, and the film awkwardly tries to explain that these DUFFisms are like metaphors or something ...)
Typically, Biana freaks and we get plenty of hoary teen-film elements: the transformation of the ugly duckling into a swan (complete with mall fashion show); the jock who is not as he seems; life-changing events happening at the school dance; and perpetually befuddled teachers (one played by fan favorite Ken Jeong). But The DUFF manages to feel a teensy bit fresher, sharper and marginally less boy-crazy than its megaplex brethren, even if it can't resolve the "DUFF" set-up with its sunny conclusion.