Movie Review: The House Bunny
By Matthew Huntley
September 6, 2008
If it takes a special skill to play ditsy, Anna Faris has it. She is an actress who can play spacey and confused like no other and she can do it without getting on your nerves. It's that latter variable that separates Faris' characters from the image of Paris Hilton; it's also one of the reasons why The House Bunny works as well as it does. It's a comedy about an orphaned Playboy bunny who's lived in Hugh Hefner's famous mansion since she was 18, only to be kicked out to the curb when she turns 27, which is, "like, 59 in bunny years."
The bunny is Shelley Darlingson (Faris), who may be ignorant about a lot of things, but she's not dumb. She's always able to make friends and become the most popular girl around. After she's arrested for misinterpreting a situation with a cop, Shelley finds herself on a college campus and is immediately drawn to the sorority houses because of their resemblance to the Playboy mansion. After meeting a group of snooty house mothers, she volunteers to become one herself at Zeta Alpha Zeta, which is occupied by a group of female social outcasts, including a virgin, a girl with a neck brace and a mute.
Shelley, however, is blind when it comes to their social disabilities and cares more about helping them (plus she needs a place to stay). She vows to get them and their house ready for pledge week so they can recruit the 30 girls needed to save their sorority house. Otherwise, an executive committee will take it away. Christopher McDonald and Beverly D'Angelo make appearances as the committee members trying to shut them down and both actors look like they're having a blast.
For Shelley, all it takes is makeup, a hair salon and some new clothes to turn the girls' images around. She also gives them invaluable advice about boys, romance, courage and being proud to be who they are. She even learns a thing or two herself as she tries to woo the philanthropic and upstanding Oliver (Colin Hanks, looking even more like his famous dad).
Yes, The House Bunny is completely predictable. That much is guaranteed. But it's also light, breezy and fun to watch, thanks mostly to its star. There's just something about the way Faris can say a line like, "I got to meet this freaking bird," that makes you laugh and smile. Fortunately, the filmmakers never take the movie too seriously or get carried away with their moral message. In fact, they seem conscious of not getting too sentimental, illustrated by a moment at the end when a college girl gives birth at a most opportune time.
The movie was directed by Fred Wolf, whose only other directing credit is the much-maligned (and mostly ignored) Strange Wilderness. It kind of surprised me to learn a man directed The House Bunny because of how female-driven it is, but Wolf proves capable of the material.
The House Bunny is a fairy tale we've seen hundreds of times, with a message we've heard hundreds of times. But for however ancient its story is, the movie is sweet and entertaining. At the center of it is the shiny and cheerful Faris. But now that she's proven she can carry a comedy, I'd like to see her in a serious role. With last year's under-appreciated Smiley Face and now The House Bunny, Faris has proven she has a knack for good timing and humility. If she can show the same skills off in a drama, there may be no stopping her.