Astute and genuinely funny teen comedies don't come along very often; this one starts with a smart script and lets the spirited cast run with it. Director Ari Sandel and writer Josh A. Cagan also acknowledge their debt to high school classics like The Breakfast Club (30 years ago) and Mean Girls (10 years ago) as they poke fun at the various types of teenagers within the school hierarchy. Of course, the focus here is a postmodern type, the "designated ugly fat friend", also known as the duff.

It's 17-year-old Bianca (Mae Whitman) who is horrified to learn that she's a duff. She's neither fat nor ugly, but her casual appearance makes her the most accessible one alongside her hot friends Casey and Jess (Bianca A. Santos and Skyler Samuels). Yes, she's the third Charlie's Angel. So Bianca sets out to change her status, enlisting the advice of sexy jock-next-door Wesley (Robbie Amell) in exchange for helping him with his chemistry homework. Her real goal is to build up some confidence so she can pursue the sweetly sensitive musician Toby (Nick Eversman). But Wesley's on-off girlfriend Madison (Bella Thorne) is the campus queen bee, and doesn't like him hanging out with a duff.

The cast and filmmakers have a great time playing with adolescent stereotypes, constantly undermining expectations while pointing out that of course everyone is actually a duff in one way or another. This sharply observant approach gives every hilarious exchange of dialogue a pointed kick. We can't help but laugh simply because we see ourselves in the characters, remembering that when you're a teen everything seems overpoweringly important. Whitman is superb as the brainy, cute girl who has refused to unleash the hottie within, and her spiky chemistry with the energetic Amell is great fun to watch. Although it's the adults who shamelessly steal their scenes, including Allison Janney in a layered role as Bianca's too-helpful self-help guru mother and an unusually restrained Ken Jeong as her journalism teacher.

Continue reading: The Duff Review