Directed by: Fred Wolf (Strange Wilderness)
Starring: Anna Faris, Emma Stone, Colin Hanks, Kat Dennings, Hugh Hefner
I’m reasonably convinced that The House Bunny was written by taking random pages from the screenplays for Revenge of the Nerds (1984) and Legally Blonde (2001), throwing them into the air, putting them together however they landed, and finally turning it all over to the tastemakers at Adam Sandler’s Happy Madison Productions for crudening up. Consequently, the mishmash was Sandlerized with the requisite number of infantile gags involving nipple-twisting, bad slapstick and leering sexuality to qualify for the Happy Madison label. Astonishingly, the results are less craptastic than you might suspect.
No, I’m not exactly recommending The House Bunny, merely noting that it’s better than it has any right to be. The fact is that the movie has two things to recommend it—and no, they’re not on either side of Anna Faris’ chest. One of them, however, is the performance by Anna Faris and the other is that by Emma Stone, whose presence also made another of this week’s releases, The Rocker, a lot less painful than it might have been. Neither Faris nor Stone are especially well-served by The House Bunny, but both cause it to rise considerably above the level of slapdashery it would otherwise have. I waste no pity on Faris. As one of the film’s executive producers, she has to bear some of the burden for the overall results, but she’s undeniably good at what she does.
The story is a silly, contrived affair that finds Playboy bunny Shelley (Faris) unceremoniously tossed out of the Playboy mansion the morning after her 27th birthday—an event that also dashes her dreams of graduating from pictorial layouts like “Girls Who Date Charlie Sheen” and “Girls with G.E.D.s” to the big time of centerfold status. Through a series of predictable events, Shelley becomes housemother of the Zeta Alpha Zeta sorority, which—predictably—is the worst sorority going. In fact, it’s going to lose its charter if its geeky girls can’t come up with 30 pledges. For that matter, it’s the desperation of this eventuality that causes head Zeta Natalie (Stone) to accept Shelley as housemother.
Absolutely nothing happens that will surprise anyone who has ever seen a movie with a similar premise. Shelley will teach the girls how to be sexy. The girls will teach Shelley how to be smart—well, within limits. Shelley will get a crush on upright nursing-home director Oliver (Colin Hanks), but constantly blow it by trying too hard to be her sexy self or her faux-educated self. Will she learn how to just be herself? Will the girls learn how to strike a happy medium between gawky and airheaded sex kitten? Will they get the requisite 30 pledges? With time-out for a subplot about what really happened at the mansion and the inevitable penultimate reel of misunderstandings, The House Bunny plods along its bumbling, good-natured path to exactly the conclusion you expected before you were handed the ticket.
The direction is never more than functional. The script offers less than a handful of witty lines and a carload of groaningly bad ones. The broader gags that make use of Faris’ abilities at physical humor work OK—that is, the ones that don’t smell of herring. Faris and Stone are very good. Colin Hanks is likable and bemused, but still bereft of star quality. (He always looks like he was wandering around the studio looking for his father, got shoved into a role by accident, and was too polite to explain the mistake.) The rest of the cast is all right, if not exceptional, while Hugh Hefner seems just as miscast as Hugh Hefner as he did back in 1969 when Playboy After Dark tried to convince everybody that it was the hippest thing on TV. Overall, it’s not a very good movie, but it’s too sweet-tempered not to like—kind of like Faris’ dumb bunny character. Rated PG-13 for sex-related humor, partial nudity and brief strong language.