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Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Maythew #1: The House Bunny (2008)

* * *

Director: Fred Wolf
Starring: Anna Faris

If it accomplishes nothing else, The House Bunny begs the question of why Anna Faris isn't in more movies. She is a singularly delightful screen presence who has the ability to make even a terrible movie kind of worth seeing just because she's in it. The House Bunny is by no means high art, but it was much better than I was expecting and offers a nice showcase for Faris' considerable comic talents.

Faris stars as Shelley and explains in an opening monologue that her life has been exactly like a fairytale "only vastly different." An orphan who has never felt like she particularly belonged anywhere, Shelley eventually finds a home in the Playboy mansion, where everybody loves her except for one Playmate who totally wants to be rid of her. When Shelley turns 27, she's unceremoniously kicked out of the mansion and wanders aimlessly before ending up on a college campus and getting the idea that she could become housemother to one of the sororities.

The sorority in need of a housemother is Zeta, which is full of misfits and on the verge of losing its charter because they never have any pledges. Natalie (Emma Stone), the leader of the Zetas, argues that if Shelley can help them become more popular, they might be able to save the house and the others - including ultra feminist Mona (Kat Dennings), pregnant Harmony (Katherine McPhee), and back brace wearing Joanne (Rumer Willis) - reluctantly agree to give her a shot. Shelley teaches them how to throw great parties and attract boys and when Shelley meets Oliver (Colin Hanks), the girls show her how to attract him with her brains rather than her body.

The screenplay by Kirsten Smith and Karen McCullah Lutz, who also wrote Legally Blonde and The Ugly Truth, is pretty weak and derivative. There are two mean girl/villain subplots that never really get off the ground because the film just doesn't seem that interested in them, the third act is a mess of quick reversals and changes of heart, and the middle section of the film is essentially a series of montages strung together by brief, plot-forwarding scenes. And yet... I enjoyed it despite these many, many flaws. I laughed a lot during this movie, particularly at the running joke of Shelley's trick for remembering people's names, which is all I will be able to think about whenever I meet new people from now on. Like it's protagonist, The House Bunny is dumb but absolutely endearing.

Matt's Thoughts: Barring the Scary Movie series, Anna Faris can do no wrong. A lesser actress might come across as mentally challenged in the role of Shelley, but Faris's comedic timing really saves the character.

While the plot is...obvious, and the B-plot involving Pooter's shenanigans at the Playboy Mansion was cut from the final film, I love this movie beyond words. Admittedly, I may not have the most cultured taste when it comes to cinematic masterpieces.

I do feel that the movie could have done more with the idea of changing one's-self to fit in among the masses. While Shelley's attempt to give the sorority a makeover in both style and personality is shown, at first, as an utterly positive situation, it's nice to see that the script at least attempted to show the error of her ways. On the other hand, Shelley is also given a slight makeover when she tries to become smarter to win the heart of a man. Because Shelley is the main character, and the focal point of the film, her makeover is the message the audience shall receive, and the end result is that Oliver is unimpressed by her attempts to grow wiser, and much preferred her when she was just a lovable moron. That's pretty much how I feel about this movie, too. It's stupid, but that's kind of why I love it.


M. Carter @ the Movies said...

Anna Faris' ability to play dumb is third only to Lisa Kudrow's (she's the best) and Dax Shepard's. Somehow you never believe she's dumb because she gives you the impression she's very smart, she's in on the joke and she's playing you for an idiot. I love that about her.

Watch "Smiley Face" for another good Faris movie -- she plays a girl who accidentally eats pot brownies. Genius.

Norma Desmond said...

I'll be on the look out for that one, thanks!

Alex said...

I love Anna Faris and was really glad to see her in a starring role, especially in a female-dominated comedy, but was fairly disappointed with the result. Faris is GREAT in this, don't get me wrong, but I can't get past all of the stupid, contradictory messages in this movie. There's a "Just be yourself" moment thrown in there, but then Emma Stone still has to play dumb to get with the guy in the end? Blah. I know it's not meant to be some sort of empowering film, but it still sort of bothered me.