Pros: At core, a better message than most Sorority/Fraternity movies. Funny. Entertaining.
Cons: Still a somewhat vapid formula comedy. Some sophomoric humor.
The House Bunny (2008) Directed by Fred Wolf
"The eyes are the nipples of the face." -Shelley Darlingson
There are a lot of movies about the loser house on campus who gets a makeover and turnaround. The Revenge of the Nerds Series and Sorority Boys spring to mind. Most are vapid remakes of a vapid idea.
And this one is no different. Well, that is not true. House Bunny, while following many of the conventions of the genre hits a few different notes.
Shelley Darlington (Anna Faris) is an orphan who now lives in the Playboy Mansion. She loves her life, and seems well suited to it. However the day after her 27th birthday, she gets a letter from Hugh Hefner (Hugh Hefner) telling her to get out. Stunned, she asks Marvin (Owen Benjamin) why that is.
Shelley: They're kicking me out?
Marvin: Maybe it's because of your age.
Shelley: But I'm 27.
Marvin: But that's 59 in Bunny Years.
Lost, alone, a few misunderstandings with the police, Shelley is looking for a place to belong. And she spots one; a sorority. "Wow, it is like a mini Playboy Mansion!" Of course the ladies of Phi Iota Mu sum it up succinctly; "Well, you do look like an older sluttier version of what we are looking for here."
But one house has a need. Zeta's House Mother is in the hospital with hallucinations. So Shelley goes to see if she can work a deal. But Zeta has problems of it's own; it is in danger of losing it's charter. There are only seven sisters, and they need thirty pledges to meet obligation.
At first it seems like there is not going to be any synchronicity, but Shelley may not know geography or how to pronounce philanthropy, but she knows how to use what she has, and a little yoga on the lawn convinces the Zetas that she has something. It's called sex appeal.
The seven sisters of Zeta House.
Natalie (Emma Stone) is the leader. Of course she is a little ADD and babbles, and is an actual virgin. Natalie is the one who sees the potential in Shelley.
Mona (Kat Dennings) is the local feminist, goth, facial piercing sort.
Mona: You like what you see, stud?
Guy at bar: Not really sure what I'm looking at, metal-face. Let me guess; is it a Hannibal Lecter thing?
Mona: Yeah, it is.
[bites his arm]
Harmony (Katharine McPhee) is not a virgin. She's about eight months pregnant. She also has a great karyoke voice.
Tanya (Kimberly Makkouk) is tiny. Really tiny.
Joanne (Rummer Willis, yes, Demi & Bruce's) is in a back brace. Of all the girls, she most literally comes out of her shell. "Oh, Joanne, I loved what you did with the Bedazzler (to her brace.)"
Lilly (Kiely Williams) is so shy she texts messages to people in the same room.
And Carrie Mae, (Dana Goodman) this is a genius performance, as the beflanneled and stooped misfit in braids. Carrie Mae can catch a pig and probably slaughter it too. When told to go work her magic on a guy at the bar, her reply sums it up.
"The only magic I ever did was try to figure out how to stay in college for nine years and not go back to my trailer park in Idaho." I love how she says IdahO.
Of course there is a makeover, and it is amazing. And a calendar, a real money maker, is their next project, capitalizing on their new looks. And suddenly the girls have to learn about boys, because the boys want to learn about them.
Shelley has a love interest as well; Oliver (Colin Hanks) who manages a nursing home, which is sort of an orphanage for old folks.
They also have enemies, the girls of Phi Iota Mu. Mrs. Hagstrom (Beverly D'Angelo) and Ashley (Sarah Wright) are the lead b*tches pulling the sled, and they covet the Zeta house to handle the Phi Iota Mu overflow.
The plot line is predictable, so much so that it is hardly a spoiler to discuss it. The girls get pretty, get popular, get b*tchy, turn into the same brand of evil as Phi Iota Mu; realize what is happening, and reverse course. There is a last moment Hail Mary Pass to save Zeta house.
But what I really found charming about this movie is this; when the Zeta's were trying to be hot b*tches, they lost themselves. When Shelley tried to be an intellectual to attract Oliver, she lost herself. The girls know about being bright, and independent, Shelley knows about making the most of what you have. It is not until they stop trying to be what the other one wants that they find themselves. Yes, the Zetas learn about makeup, and water bras, and the power of cleavage over the male of the species, but they learn that they can be honest and smart, and still attract boys. And Shelley learns she can learn to carry on an intelligent conversation, but she is not a librarian, and that is okay too.
This is not a deep movie, but it is not a vapid comedy either. Okay, maybe a little vapid, but it is saved by a genuine sweetness, and a profound understanding of what really makes a worthwhile person.
Anna Faris, so wonderfully gifted at playing an idiot, is frequently charming in this role. Her wide eyed innocence, at odds with the jaded sensibilities of a bunny, is more about an outlook on life than a lack of intelligence. She, like Shelley, has a good grasp of how to work with what you are given. The role of Shelley does not have the same verve of Legally Blonde, but still manages to make you love our heroine, and wish her well.
I guess the real message of the House Bunny is that none of the girls, Zeta or Phi Iota Mu, are rewarded for any of their wiles. They take what the other side of the beauty and geek equation offers, and enhance what they genuinely are. And I like that message much better.