The House Bunny: funnier and (slightly) less sexist than it looks
Last Updated: Friday, August 22, 2008 | 11:59 AM ET
By Jason Anderson, CBC News
Shelley Darlington, the halter-topped heroine of The House Bunny, is a fount of useful advice and grooming tips. “Dressing sexy is all about skimplifying,” she says to her young charges while illustrating the importance of flaunting what you’ve got. When it comes to make-up, she explains that it all starts with the right combination of eyeliner and mascara because “the eyes are the nipples of the face.” Finally, should you ever get the chance to talk to that boy you’ve been crushing on, don’t scare him off by indicating you might have a brain. According to Shelley, “Boys don’t like girls who are too smart.”
Ordinarily, you’d have to read a year’s worth of Cosmopolitan back issues to glean that much valuable information, but The House Bunny conveniently packages it all in one new product.
Some may find it depressing to learn that a lowbrow comedy about a former Playboy bunny who becomes a sorority house mother is one of the few recent Hollywood movies to be marketed chiefly on the basis of its female star (Anna Faris) and one of an equally tiny number to be written and largely co-produced by women. But you’ve got to turn that frown upside down, sunshine; consider this a lesson in post-post-post-feminism. Any bitter aftertaste related to experiencing The House Bunny is mitigated by two factors: 1) Faris is the most gifted comedienne working in Hollywood today; and 2) the movie is often very funny.
As the 31-year-old Baltimore native demonstrated in even her most humiliating moments in the Scary Movie franchise — as well as in classier fare like Brokeback Mountain and Lost in Translation — Faris is a virtuoso of vapidity. She might still be waiting for the movie vehicle that she truly deserves — Gregg Araki’s under-heralded stoner comedy Smiley Face came close — but The House Bunny gives her plenty of opportunity to shine in her own dim-bulb way.
The early scenes detail Shelley’s happy life in the environs of the Playboy Mansion where, as she later explains, she enjoys all the things that girls usually do when living with their best friends: “painting each other’s bodies, baking penis cookies, playing with monkeys.” But she is crushed when she is unceremoniously booted from the mansion the morning after she turns 27 (“59 in bunny years”). Seeking a similar living situation, Shelley lucks upon a sorority house that faces the possibility of closure lest it attract some new pledges. Soon enough, she is giving popularity-inducing makeovers to the house’s gallery of losers and misfits — albeit losers and misfits played by It girls like Superbad’s Emma Stone, The 40-Year-Old Virgin’s Kat Denning and Rumer Willis, the progeny of Bruce and Demi.Shelly, lower right, gives makeover advice to the losers and misfits at a sorority house in The House Bunny. (Columbia Pictures)
The plot is so perfunctory, it wouldn’t even pass muster as the premise for a Revenge of the Nerds sequel; luckily, no one involved in the film is particularly invested in making it believable. As is the case with every other movie made by Happy Madison Productions – Adam Sandler’s production shingle – what matters is the number of good gags this skimplified apparatus can support.
Though slow to start, The House Bunny scores well overall, largely thanks to Faris’s ability to do 10,000 variations on a blank stare. (It’s hilarious just to watch her try to walk in Shelley’s unfeasibly high heels.) While the barrage of non-sequiturs and misunderstandings inevitably gets repetitious, there’s more gold than not. Take, for example, Shelley’s response to a villainess at a competing sorority house, who tells Shelley to go back to her “brothel.” “Oh,” says sweet, dense Shelley, “I’m not looking to make soup.” Or listen to Shelley’s definition of charity: “One time at the [Playboy] mansion, I let Bob Saget grind on me during a slow dance.”
Filmmakers Karen McCullah Lutz and Kirsten Smith’s previous credits include snappier-than-average fare like 10 Things I Hate About You, Ella Enchanted and Reese Witherspoon’s breakthrough hit Legally Blonde, The House Bunny’s most obvious predecessor. This time out, Lutz and Smith have managed to craft a comedy that doesn’t rely too heavily on sexist stereotypes, even if it does argue that young ladies should try to be as pretty as they can be.
That probably constitutes “girl power” only in the loosest, Spice Girls sense of the phrase, but it should be noted that The House Bunny is far less cruel to its female characters (and less disgusted by their bodies) than most contemporary Hollywood comedies, including the output of the more critically favoured Judd Apatow. Though it plays dumb, The House Bunny can’t entirely hide its smarts.
The House Bunny opens Aug. 22.
Jason Anderson is a writer based in Toronto.
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