'The DUFF's' Robbie Amell On His Character's Journey, Rude Beginnings
And he reveals the woman in his life who wanted one of his promotional cardboard cut-outs for the movie.
[WARNING: Spoilers ahead for The DUFF.]
CBS Films' The DUFF has all of the hallmarks of a typical high-school movie: a socially awkward main character who wants to fit in; a good-looking, popular athlete who turns out to be more than just a pretty face; and a few mean girls and zany teachers.
But it's what the movie does with these characters that are leading critics to say that the film transcends its cliched elements.
For instance, New York magazine's Bilge Ebiri calls it "a new classic," writing, "So why is it so wonderful? Because wit and charm matter, and The DUFF has a good deal of both. The cast will be stars, the gags will be immortal, and you’ll still be watching this movie years from now."
Even The Newark Star-Ledger's Stephen Whitty concedes, "It's not Mean Girls. It's not even Easy A. But it's definitely a solid B."
It was the story's echoes of popular, modern-day teen comedies that made co-star Robbie Amell interested in the project.
"The script was one of those that has the potential to be really special, like a Mean Girls, like an Easy A. It kind of had a bit of a John Hughes feel to it, you know, a comedy with a good message," Amell tells The Hollywood Reporter of what attracted him to the film.
In this one, after Mae Whitman's Bianca is informed that she's the DUFF, or "designated ugly fat friend" to her stylish, well-put-together pals, she asks her handsome neighbor and former childhood friend Wesley (Amell) to help her become "the dateable one," specifically to get the attention of another guy she's interested in. (In exchange, she promises to help him pass science class.) As one might expect, Bianca and Wesley grow close over the course of her makeover and his tutoring and ultimately end up together. But there are a few bumps along the way.
And Bianca and Wesley's partnership doesn't have the most compassionate start, with Wesley matter-of-factly telling Bianca, previously unaware of her role in the high-school social order, that she's a DUFF. Even though Bianca's visibly offended when he literally calls her "ugly" and "fat," Wesley goes on, talking about how she's "the one who doesn't look as good, thus making their friends look better, the one who's easy to talk to because no one's trying to get with them." She responds by throwing a drink in his face.
Given that the two don't seem to have a particularly adversarial relationship prior to this encounter, what would lead Wesley to think it's OK to say something like that to her?
"I just think that, at the beginning of the movie, he doesn't realize he's being rude. To him, this is just kind of the way things work at school. He doesn't mean it in a bad way," Amell explains. "Wesley's one of the only ones who, at the beginning of the movie, looks at everybody as a DUFF…Everybody has somebody who's better than them at something, smarter than them, better looking than them. There's always going to be somebody who's better than you at something."
But he adds that as Wesley and Bianca grow closer, Wesley "learns that maybe that's not the smartest way to address things."
"Spending time with a smart, witty character like Bianca, he learns as much from her as she does from him, if not more," Amell says.
Even after viewers might realize that Bianca and Wesley should get together, it takes a while for that to happen, with Bianca going out with (and being disappointed by) her crush and Wesley briefly reuniting with his uber-mean-girl ex-girlfriend Madison (Bella Thorne). Along the way, they each seem to miss picking up on the other one's feelings.
"I think he was mistaking their feelings for each other as just this great friendship and them having grown closer," Amell says of why it takes a while for the characters to pick up on what the audience is seeing. "Bianca goes on the date with [her crush] Toby, and the whole thing was just about her getting the guy that she wanted to go out with. They both think they want different things."
Amell adds that the movie should resonate with anyone who struggled in high school. "I think a good teen comedy can transcend generations because everybody kind of goes through their own stuff in high school," he says. "I think the movie touches on stuff that happened decades ago and will happen for decades to come…Everybody in high school is just trying to find themselves. No matter how confident they seem, everybody's got their own insecurities and just trying to figure out who they are and what they want to be and trying to find the confidence to be the best version of that."
The movie has already turned Amell's character into a life-size cut-out, with his two-dimensional figure, wearing an "I'm her DUFF" t-shirt, popping up at movie theaters and on social media as people snapped photos with the display.
Amell laughed when THR asked him about the cut-out, calling it "super fun." He also shared that his mom wanted one and CBS Films sent it over to her.
"She just got it [in January], and she was excited to have it," he says.