The Duff (12A)

Film review pix 9/4/15

Film review pix 9/4/15 - Credit: Archant

It seems rather disingenuous for Hollywood - an industry that reveres glamour, designer couture and age-defying beauty - to peddle wish fulfillment fantasies to female audiences that extol beauty as a quality that radiates purely from within.

Cinema's so-called ugly ducklings are invariably gorgeous actresses, who have neglected to wash their hair and put on make-up for a few scenes, dressed in oversized high-street fashions.

Their transformation into glittering swans is just a couple of hours away, courtesy of a top stylist.

Ultimately, we're suckers for these widescreen fairy tales and The Duff continues the trend with sassiness and style.

Ari Sandel's film is an unabashedly feel-good comedy about one young woman's journey from insecurity to self-acceptance that patrols the same high school corridors as She's All That, Clueless, Mean Girls and 10 Things I Hate About You.

Josh A Cagan's script, adapted from the novel by Kody Keplinger, embraces every well-worn cliche and convention, empowering its heroines to take control of their lives and defy magazine articles which dictate how they should behave or dress.

Thus one tomboy isn't fussed about attending her school's rites-of-passage prom because she already has a date in front of the TV.

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'There's a Vincent Price marathon on so I gotta watch that,' she deadpans.

The devoted horror fan is Bianca (Mae Whitman), who attends parties with her best friends Jess (Skyler Samuels) and Casey (Bianca A Santos), oblivious to the fact that she is the D.U.F.F. - Designated Ugly Fat Friend - of her close-knit social circle.

When her next-door neighbour, hunky athlete Wesley (Robbie Amell), who is dating the school's queen bee Madison (Bella Thorne), opens Bianca's eyes to the upsetting truth, she resolves to transform from an ugly duckling in order to land a date with her dream beau, Toby (Nick Eversman).

Bianca recruits Wesley to polish her rough edges and in return, she improves his academic grades so he can secure a sports scholarship.

With encouragement from her sassy mother (Allison Janney), whose mantra is 'believe, retrieve, achieve... just don't conceive,' Bianca realises that even the most beautiful girls at school are someone's D.U.F.F. and she shouldn't be defined by a cruel label.

Meanwhile, Madison grows jealous of Bianca's friendship with Wesley and dispatches her acolyte Caitlyn (Rebecca Weil) to spy on the odd couple.

The Duff is a heartfelt and frequently hilarious traipse through teenage angst, anchored by a luminous central performance from Whitman.

She endears us to her snarky and cynical 17-year-old and shares winning screen chemistry with dreamboat Amell and Janney as the divorced mom who believes you should 'project confidence with a power pant-suit combo'.

Colourful supporting turns from Ken Jeong and Romany Malco, as members of school staff, up the laughter quotient to the brink of hysteria.

*** (3 stars)

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