To be honest, I really wanted The House Bunny to be great. I didn't expect it to be, but I wished it would surprise me and turn out to be fun and hilarious. Amidst the constant comedic bombardment from the Ferrells, Stillers and Apatows of the world, I wanted there to be a totally kickass, stand-out female-led comedy. And while Anna Faris is endearingly goofy, the movie overall is just another manufactured cookie-cutter cutout of the same ol', same ol' (not unlike an actual Playboy bunny, come to think of it).
You can glean pretty much all the necessary information about the plot from the movie's trailer. Playboy bunny Shelley (Faris) learns that she's been kicked out of the Playboy mansion after her 27th birthday. She wanders around until she spots a row of houses that look like miniature Playboy mansions: frat and sorority houses. Shelley ultimately finds herself at the Zeta Alpha Zeta house, thus far led by the adorably nerdy Natalie. ZAZ is the place where the "misfit" sorority girls go (you know, ones who have piercings, or a back brace, or were raised on a farm). The girls need to get at least 30 new pledges in order to keep the ZAZ house, so Shelley appoints herself as the sorority's housemother and gets to work changing around the sorority's reputation. For more on how she goes about doing this,
Changing around the girls' image consists of giving them all makeovers so they look more conventionally pretty, and schooling them in the ways of flirting. The basis for this logic is that pledges will see that these girls can get boys, and they'll want to join up with these girls. Shelley instructs the girls on how to teeter around in insanely high heels, wear extensions and use Waterbras. In a scene that made me question what decade we're in, Shelley advises Natalie against coming across as intelligent in front of boys because they "don't like girls who are too smart." Later, Natalie falls for the smart, studious Oliver (Colin Hanks) and she goes about trying to make herself into more of an intellectual in order to impress him. But because that's not who she really is, it doesn't work so well.
Many similarities could be drawn between Legally Blonde's Elle Woods and The House Bunny's Shelley (and unsurprisingly, these two movies were written by the same people). Both characters are sunny, blond, girlishly sweet and underestimated because of the way they look. But the comedy in Legally Blonde often comes from her proving to the doubters that she's actually quite clever. In House Bunny we're laughing at Shelley's mispronounced words and dazed confusion over everyday things. And though the silliness of her misunderstandings is funny, she also sometimes seems to border on brain damaged.
Toward the end there's some vague references to the idea that maybe — just maybe — Shelley doesn't actually know everything there is to know about getting boys and being popular, and that it's better to just be yourself. But the thing is, even after they all come to that conclusion, they're still the glossier versions of themselves, and I found myself longing for the "freak" girls from the beginning of the movie — the ones with some character and sense of individuality. Of course I'd like those girls to be confident and well-liked, too, I just wish that the only way to achieve that wasn't by making each of them look like Hilary Duff. The message still seems to be that you can be an individual — but only after you've reached a certain base level of acceptable prettiness. I'm not saying I'm surprised, but it's a shame that this opportunity was wasted. A more fun and more interesting storyline might have been to have the "misfit" sorority succeed without having to wear pounds of makeup, tiny dresses and push-up bras.
Photos courtesy of Sony Pictures