Directed By: Ari Sandel

Starring: Mae Whitman, Robbie Amell, Bella Thorne, Bianca A. Santos, Allison Janney, Romany Malco, and Ken Jeong

Thirty years ago this week, John Hughes introduced us to a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess, and a criminal in the most entertaining detention of all time.  Thirty years ago, Hughes introduced us to his classic coming-of-age comedy-drama The Breakfast Club.  With the anniversary of this cinematic heavyweight in mind, I've obviously popped open my Blu-Ray player and taken myself back to 1985.  With The DUFF on the way this weekend, it probably wasn't the brightest idea on my part. Then again, it wasn't the brightest idea for director Ari Sandel to invoke labels like the princess and the basket case during the opening credits of The DUFF.  It's a swift and prominent notification to moviegoers that greatness is not unfolding before their eyes on the big screen during this one.

One to ignore labels, high school senior Bianca Piper (Mae Whitman) has no idea how much her social status is defined by her friends Jess (Skyler Samuels) and Casey (Bianca A. Santos).  Bianca is the friend no one ever acknowledges.  She is the +1 at parties.  She's the one guys approach in the hopes of dating Jess or Casey.  Though Bianca has no idea of her true social standing, her childhood friend and neighbor Wesley Rush (Robbie Amell) certainly recognizes her situation.  The captain of the football team and ex-boyfriend of popular mean girl and aspiring reality TV star Madison Carter (Bella Thorne), Wesley is certainly in a far better place socially.  At a party hosted by Madison, Wesley and Bianca connect, and he rudely informs her of this label.  Bianca is the Duff for Jess and Casey.  Duff stands for “designated ugly fat friend”, and Bianca is not at all fond of the term.  The night ends on a sour, contentious note for both Wesley and Bianca.

Somewhere deep down, Bianca recognizes Wesley's cruel remarks to be true, and she's going through the five stages of grief as defined by her self-help guru mother Mrs. Piper (Allison Janney).  With this notion of being a duff corrupting her, Bianca ends her friendship with Jess and Casey and drags her social standing even further down the drain.  To undo her duff ways, Bianca partners with Wesley.  In exchange for helping her to up her social standing, Wesley will get some tutoring he desperately needs for chemistry.  Little does Bianca know that all the time she will start spending with Wesley will agitate the one and only Madison Carter, who still happens to hold a torch for her ex.  Meanwhile, Bianca's teacher Mr. Arthur (Ken Jeong) wants her to learn that the pen is mightier than the sword by writing an article in the school newspaper on what homecoming means to her.

The five stages of grief are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.  Ari Sandel's The DUFF tries to explore each and every one of these stages to comedic effect as Bianca Piper deals with the label placed upon her by her fellow classmates.  While the film has its strong moments, it in no way rivals the best coming-of-age dramas we've seen over the years.  Offering a decent story and quirky satire on the life of the modern American adolescent, The DUFF seems to only have one gear, and that's sugar.  The film is one big saccharine reminder that its main character is grieving the loss of her perceived social status and her slump as a duff.  Playing the same note over and over again, The DUFF gradually loses its appeal over its 100 minute runtime.

The cast delivers solid performances that certainly connect with moviegoers.  For her part as Bianca Piper, actress Mae Whitman delivers an enjoyable, gutsy performance.  She's charismatic enough to carry the material but not to elevate it.  For his part as Wesley Rush, Robbie Amell delivers the typical high school jock and shares some halfway decent romantic chemistry with Whitman on screen.  Bella Thorne gives us the mean chick we've seen time and time again on the big screen in a rather measured performance, but she's nonetheless entertaining.  Finally, we have elder cast members Allison Janney, Ken Jeong, and Romany Malco portraying Mrs. Piper, Mr. Arthur, and Principal Buchanon respectively.  Each delivers a few chuckles in the film but mostly plays on his or her persona.

I've got mixed feelings on The DUFF.  On the one hand, it's a decently entertaining romp that plays to its strengths and tries to modernize the teen comedy.  On the other hand, it's simply anything but the next great coming-of-age movie.  The Breakfast Club continues to sit safely atop its perch, and The DUFF gets a 0.06% rating.  Have a few glasses of Chardonnay with this tale of a high school duff.