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The House Bunny: Awkward Humor Wrapped in Pink Spandex

Posted by goldwriting on August 23, 2008

OK, that time I am sure something just touched my butt.

Searching for the right words to start this review made me feel as dumb as the main character in this movie acts. The House Bunny is a low-ball comedy pegged deep in a summer filled with high concept humor, but does it succeed as a welcome break? Yes, but just barely.

Anna Faris stars in the movie as Shelley, a Playboy Playmate seemingly past her prime, who is unceremoniously booted from Hef’s paradise. In her search for work in a world which is wildly beyond her understanding, she stumbles into a sorority house on the verge of losing its charter because no one, and I mean absolutely no one, wants to hang out with the girls who live there. Shelley sees an opportunity to bedazzle and befriend these girls, turning them into the popular chicks on campus, while the girls see Shelley as the last ditch effort to save their house. Sweatshirts turn to hot pants, frizzy turns to fabulous and piercings turn to pedicures. But, in an effort to keep some sort of moral along the way, both sides learn what it really means to be a family and how much value should be placed on what other people think of you.

So there you have the basic idea, which is nothing terribly new. Beat for beat The House Bunny could be superimposed over other recent college romps as Accepted and Sydney White (the latter being a modern day re-telling of the fairy tale, Snow White). Not to say it doesn’t bring anything new to the table. The supremely odd characters created inside the sorority are worth a look, if not a shudder. Anna Faris does what she does best, play people so mentally vacant, so completely oblivious that the sheer fact they can remember to breathe on their own is a gold medal worthy accomplishment (like the Olympics reference? they’re everywhere!!!). In reality Anna is extremely intelligent and knows exactly what she is doing to keep her career moving along, in fact, she was an executive producer on this movie and I wouldn’t be surprised to see her taking the reins even more in the future. From her first big pop on screen in the original Scary Movie, it was easy to see there was more to her than a beaming smile and big, pretty eyes. She plays her roles with a fearlessness most actors can only strive for. The biggest benefit to The House Bunny is her co-stars seem equally trained and willing to look as blatantly stupid as needed. Emma Stone, whom I just reviewed in The Rocker, brings on one of the most uncontrollably awkward characters in the film and alongside Anna delivers the hands down funniest scene in the picture. As hardcore as she looked in her last film, she’s totally replaced it with social ineptitude on a magical level. Also helping to form out the rowdy bunch of misfits is Kat Dennings as their resident pierced, hoodie shielded, man-hater. Kat makes the shift through the film to uber-hottie a little too easily, but I think it was more due to not enough time to devote to her character, not the fault of the actress (who can also be seen co-starring in the upcoming Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist alongside comedy wunderkid Michael Cera). Finally, slipping in between the cracks in the credits, is Rumer Willis, daughter of action icon Bruce Willis. She also succeeds in being socially unfit due to her wearing a upper body metallic brace, possibly fashioned from some Victorian suit of armor. The main downside for Rumer is once the brace disappears, so does her character. Deserving a special mention is Dana Goodman, who plays Carrie Mae, a painfully funny mix of a lumberjack, a greco-roman wrestler, with a topping of Jim Carrey . They made no attempt to explain how someone so odd could exist, but we really didn’t need one.

Although the movie does level out and take on a level of charm, the opening thirty minutes are filled with some of the most painful and uncomfortable awkwardness I’ve been exposed to in a long time. It was there to serve the story and prove how socially oblivious these girls were, but the movie took it to such a level where I almost felt bad for laughing. Most of the opening gags were met with uneasy groans from the audience instead of chuckles and laughs of understanding. Once the girls make the switch from freak shows to femme fatales, the movie finds a much more familiar rhythm and plays that tune until the final credits. Another fault is the misuse in the cast of Kiely Williams and Kimberly Makkouk. Kiely plays Lilly, a mute girl who sends most of dialogue through text messages to the other girls. Her first appearance in the movie comes out of nowhere, or I suppose more literally she dives out of locked room off screen, but her initial outfit is terribly reminiscent of something the maid would wear in Gone With the Wind. The only reason this is worth mentioning is Kiely is the only African American actor in the movie. I’m not saying it was intentionally racist, just saying the wardrobe person took a nap through 400 years of her American History class. As for Kimberly, she plays Tanya, who has a whopping handful of lines in the whole movie and is only part of the outcast crew because she’s tiny, somewhere near dwarf status. While some people might find the few height jokes in the flick worthwhile, it just wasn’t enough to make her character necessary in the least.

I couldn’t possibly write about this without bringing up the continuing trend of casting musicians in feature films. In the role of Harmony, the pregnant member of the house, is Katherine McPhee, American Idol runner-up in Season 5. She does have an amazing voice, which is used in the ending credits and a cringe worthy karaoke scene early on, but she also got tons of notice due to her flawless looks. That imagery only continues in The House Bunny because even nine months pregnant it’s hard to believe college guys wouldn’t be tossing themselves in her path. Adding one more to the musical mix is Tyson Ritter, the lead singer of All-American Rejects. He does a turn as Colby, the long time super-crush of Emma Stone’s character. Not enough really there to say whether he’s a good actor or not, but honestly the character wasn’t cool enough either to make us understand why Emma liked him so much.

Recommendation: It’s a silly comedy that does earn some stripes in the latter half, but be prepared to ache with awkwardness throughout the opening scenes. Uncomfortability is the name of the game here. If you’re down for that, feel free to check it out, but you can honestly wait until video.

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