"the on-screen chemistry between the two is rather heartwarming to watch"

Based on the book by Kody Keplinger, when Bianca Piper (Mae Whitman) discovers she is her high school friends’ DUFF (Designated Ugly Fat Friend), she decides to re-invent herself with the help of her next door neighbour, the popular jock Wesley Rush (Robbie Amell). The two embark on a mission to change Bianca’s appearance and step out of the shadow of her label -- so it’s basically the kind of high school teen comedy that has always had a hit-and-miss reputation, depending on how well it connects with its audience.

The film really feels like two separate halves: the first is very awkward as you see the lead actors struggle to work out whether what they are doing is meant to be funny or serious. What comedy there is tends to fall on its arse harder than Madonna at the BRITs. The second half becomes more of a romantic comedy, with Disney-esque moral messages that feel like the writer was creating this on the spot and began apologising for what they had done earlier on in the film. By this time most of the characters have soliloquised about having not meant to call Bianca a DUFF in the first place.

Mae Whitman (who is neither Ugly nor Fat) looks more than uncomfortable attempting to inject comedy into an issue that has been the cause of cyber bullying and teen suicide -- I certainly felt uncomfortable for her. However, she is a very natural performer who gives a heartfelt performance, especially in the latter parts. Also, in some of the lighter moments with co-star Robbie Amell she really shines. These points feel like they stand on their own and were the only times I had a smile on my face, and the on-screen chemistry between the two is rather heartwarming to watch.

Wesley Rush is, for a change, a three-dimensional jock. Gone is the stereotypical airhead who likes drinking until he’s sick and has sex with as many girls as possible. Robbie has excellent comic timing and is able to pull a snigger or two out of me during the film but it’s his more tender moments that really sell this character.

Apart from the uncomfortable way of approaching the issues of the film, I feel the writing is quite peculiar. This doesn’t feel like it can connect to the age range it’s aimed at, with a lot of references feeling outdated and sloppy attempts to mention as many social networks as possible are just cringe worthy!  It feels as though a man in his mid-thirties has dreamed about being back in high school, found Keplinger’s book and tried to turn it into a screenplay.

If I were to compare this with anything else, I’d say The Duff is trying to be a lot like the MTV series Awkward, by Lauren Lungerich. Apart from Mae and Robbie’s performances, the film has very little in the way of presence and can drag at times. It’s unlikely this particular teen flick will be up there with the greats that have reached cult status, such as ‘Heathers’, ‘Napoleon Dynamite’, ‘Bring It On’ and ‘Mean Girls’.