The House Bunny
Film review by: Witney Seibold
“The House Bunny” was directed by Fred Wolf, the writer of “Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star,” “Joe Dirt,” and “Without a Paddle.” It was written by Kirstin Smith and Karen McCullah Lutz, the pair responsible for the screenplays to “She’s the Man,” “10 Things I Hate About You” and “Legally Blonde.”
I am somewhat fond of “10 Things I Hate About You,” and I didn’t exactly hate “Legally Blonde.” The other films mentioned, I either intentionally let slip past me, or really hurt to watch. I should have known what I was getting into when I decided to watch “The House Bunny,” but I was too enamored of the film’s star, Anna Faris, to have my guard up. As a result, I subjected myself to a limp retread of the limpest of the ‘80s raunchy college sex comedies, but without the benefit of nudity and drugs to keep things lively. “The House Bunny” plays like a largely laugh-free, cleaned-up-for-TV version of “Revenge of the Nerds.” For girls.
“The House Bunny” takes place in one of those movie colleges in which the students are all obsessed with the status of their frat/sorority house, are all defined by the clothes they wear, drink a lot of beer, and never ever, not once, go to a single class. In my college, when we got together, most of our conversations were about the classes we were taking, the professors we liked, the books we were reading, and how we couldn’t go out because we had too much homework. Not so in the Zeta Alpha Zeta house (and I wonder if ZAZ is a reference to Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker of “Airplane!” fame). The ZAZ house is populated by the campus “freaks.” The ones who dress strangely are socially awkward, and are threatened by the campus Barbie Dolls who live in the “popular” sorority house. They are all, gasp, virgins. Well, except for the pregnant one.
Into ZAZ floats Shelley Darlingson (Faris), an ex-Playboy Bunny, just booted out of the Playboy Mansion not two days before. Evidently, 27 is just too old to live at the Mansion, and Shelley, having lived a life of pampered luxury her whole life, has nowhere else to go. Shelley decides that she is going to use her skills at flirting and dressing slutty to transform the freaky girls of ZAZ house into a force popular enough to earn them the 30 pledges they need to stay open, else the Barbie house take them over.
Excuse my pontificating, but I’m going to go through the members of ZAZ house one by one and point out just how misguided this film is in trying to separate the freaks from the chaff.
Firstly, there’s Natalie (Emma Stone from “Superbad”), a nerdy redhead who likes crafts and “Battlestar Galactica.” To flirt with a boy, she sprays her crotch with water. I shouldn’t need to point out that “geek” has become rather hip in the last decade. In my universe, a cute, nerdy redhead who’s into “Battlestar Galactica” would not just have a boyfriend, but she’d be beating off boys with a stick.
Second, there’s Mona (Kat Dennings). Mona is the man-hating feminist type with multiple piercings in her face and other parts of her body. There’s a scene in which Shelley uses a metal-detecting wand to find all of them, and it’s revealed that she has labial piercings. Once again, in my universe, strong, outspoken women who have labial piercings are not just popular, but are getting huge amounts of sex.
Thirdly, there’s Harmony (Katherine McPhee, a onetime contestant on “American Idol”). Harmony is way cute, and the only thing that seems to keep her on the outside is her pregnancy. Um… doesn’t that mean she got laid at least once? Wouldn’t a pretty, charismatic brunette be popular automatically? I guess the screenplay feels that she is the sum of her pregnancy.
Fourthly, there’s Carrie Mae (Dana Goodman), who is tall and kind of mannish, and has a deep voice. She is forthright and tries to pick up boys in a bar in the most direct fashion imaginable. I don’t think being tall and mannish is enough to put her in the “freak” category, and her pickup techniques would be successful in my universe.
The other three are kind of shortchanged. Joanne (Rumer Willis) wears a back brace, so I guess she’s a freak. Lilly (Kiely Williams) is a pretty Brit, but she’s a recluse who only communicates through text messages. And Tanya (Kimberly Makkouk) is… short. That’s her entire character, really. She’s short.
Anyway, the vapid Shelley decides to make the girls over, encourage them to do typical slutty sorority girl stuff (kissing booths and the like), throw some parties with beer, and talk to boys. The freak girls, despite being nerds and having outré interests, and seeming kind of smart, buy everything Shelley says, and are eager to become the boring plastic girls they despise. There are at least five makeover montages in “The House Bunny.” Possibly six. There’s even one which I’m sure was stolen, shot-for-shot, from “Revenge of the Nerds.” But never mind.
Shelley begins having a romance with a noble young man who works in a nursing home named Oliver (Colin Hanks). The freaks try to teach Shelley how to act smart so he’ll like her. The date scenes with Shelley and Oliver are painful to watch. And there are several. Oliver must not be as smart as the screenplay says he is, because he continues to go out with this ditz.
By the end, of course, the girls realize that they don’t need to be just like Shelley to succeed, and to find a balance between freaky and boring. What’s the lesson here? Become a little bit more like the status quo, and you’ll succeed? That doesn’t seem very empowering.
The only thing keeping “The House Bunny” even barely afloat is Faris. Faris has a comic talent and a glorious audacity that few comediennes possess, and she actually makes Shelley bearable to watch, and even funny a times. Faris has been compared to the likes of Lucille Ball and Carol Burnett. These are not inappropriate comparisons. I imagine a version of “The House Bunny” starring, say, Jessica Simpson, and I wince. No, Faris plays the hell out of her scenes, and manages to carry what small virtues the film has.
If you want a better showcase for her talents, seek out Gregg Araki’s film “Smiley Face.” It’s a slight stoner comedy, but it’s rather funny, and Faris is in fine form.