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House Bunny, The
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Faris Saves!"
4 stars

By most reasonable standards, the new comedy “The House Bunny” appears to be the kind of movie that most discerning audiences would go to great lengths to avoid seeing in theaters. For one thing, a basic description of the plot makes it sound like the kind of thing that you have already seen a dozen times before. The second red flag is that while it is another effort from Adam Sandler’s Happy Madison production company, it is one for which he doesn’t make even a token appearance--while the comedies that he has appeared aren’t exactly masterpieces, the productions that he has ducked out on have included the fairly unspeakable likes as “The Benchwarmers,” “Grandma’s Boy” and “Strange Wilderness.” Finally, there is the fact that Sony Pictures has chosen to toss it out in theaters at the very end of the summer--a period that tend to be a dumping ground for studios to toss out films that they have virtually no confidence in on the theory that they might score a few bucks from audiences who have already seen the big blockbusters countless times and who are willing to sit through practically anything as long as it is new--and with only a smattering of last-second press screenings that were deliberately scheduled after the weekend sections of most newspapers had already gone to press. (This, by the way, coming from the same corporate institution that made sure that critics had plenty of time to see and review the likes of “Zombie Strippers” and “Made of Honor.” ) In other words, if you skipped the film when it came out last weekend, most observers would have regarded it as the smart bet on your part. And yet, while it would have been the smart bet, it turns out that it would have been the wrong one because instead of being the brain-dead programmer for slack-jawed teeners promised/foretold by the commercials, it is actually a hugely entertaining bit of fluff with a central performance from Anna Faris that is so charming, beguiling and flat-out hilarious that if there was any justice in the world when it comes to such things, it would be a near-mortal lock for a slew of year-end awards.

In the film, Faris plays Shelley Darlingson, a sweet-natured and bubble-headed blonde orphan who has been living for years in the well-manicured paradise that is the Playboy Mansion, where she has become almost as familiar and beloved of a fixture as Hugh Hefner himself. Having only made brief appearances in the magazine in pictorials dedicated to such subjects as “The Girls of the Midwest,” “The Girls of the G.E.D.” and “The Girls of Charlie Sheen,” Shelley’s biggest dream in life is to finally appear in the magazine’s centerfold as Miss November and after Hef throws a lavish party for her 27th birthday, she is convinced that day has finally arrived. Alas, when she wakes up the next morning, she instead receives a note from Hef (who has taken off to Vegas) informing her that she is to vacate the premises immediately. With no obvious job skills or life plan, Shelley wanders around a bit and, through circumstances that need not concern us, she comes across a college campus and winds up on the dilapidated steps of Zeta Alpha Zeta, a sorority that is so unpopular--the entire membership consists of only seven social outcasts that includes the geeky Natalie (Emma Stone), the acerbic feminist Mona (Kat Dennings), the hugely pregnant Harmony (Katherine McPhee), the back-brace wearing Joanne (Rumer Willis) and the literally-in-the-closet Lilly (Kiely Williams)--that it is in danger of losing its charter unless they can attract enough people to recruit 30 pledges in the next few weeks. The good-natured Shelley volunteers to help the girls to save their home and sorority by becoming their new house mother and using her own form of makeover magic (in one especially memorable makeup lesson, she informs her charges that “the eyes are the nipples of the face”) to allow them to unleash the hotties lurking within them and, more importantly, gain a certain sense of self-confidence. Amazing, it works and the Zetas soon become the most popular sorority around, a development that rouses the ire of their evil rivals at Phi Iota Mu, whose leader (Sarah Wright) and house mother (Beverly D’Angelo) will do anything to ensure that they are kicked off campus.

At this point, some of you may be wondering how I could possibly be praising a film that, based on the above description, sounds like nothing more than an especially bald-faced rip-off of “Legally Blonde” (perhaps “rip-off” is too strong of a term since both films were written by the same screenwriting duo of Kirsten Smith & Karen McCullah Lutz) that has been embroidered with the potentially disturbing suggestion that a young woman can’t be truly happy or fulfilled unless she wears a lot of makeup, dresses like someone going to an audience participation screening of “Coyote Ugly,” goes to a lot of parties and has a lot of non-threatening boys drooling over her. Luckily, Smith & Lutz manage to avoid that potential trap by injecting the premise with enough of a sense of knowing humor so that the makeover nonsense is never allowed to be taken too seriously and by smartly including a subplot in which Shelley finds herself crushing on a noble and knowledgeable guy (Colin Hanks) who is far removed from the himbos that usually come crawling after her. When it turns out that her usual tricks to lure a man (such as suggesting that she has many other guys waiting to take a crack at her and a spectacularly misfired attempt to reenact one of the iconic images of screen sexiness), she finds herself submitting to the advice of her charges and inadvertently winds up improving her own character in the process. This is not to say that the life lessons contained here are that noteworthy (it is kind of hard to completely take seriously the nottie-to-hottie transformations when all of the girls in question are stone-cold babes even in their gawky incarnations) but the film does manage to strike a balance between sensible behavior and outright fantasy that winds up standing its own ground amidst the admittedly fluffy surroundings.

However, what really sets “The House Bunny” apart from the majority of high-concept, low-intelligence comedies that come along is the singularly winning presence of Anna Faris as Shelley in one of the most utterly endearing comedic performances to come along in a while. After doing time as the chief comedic virtue of the “Scary Movie” franchise and offering up scene-stealing turns in films ranging in quality from “May” and “Brokeback Mountain” to “Waiting” and “Just Friends,” this film (which she co-produced and dreamed up the premise) is her big shot at showing that she has the stuff to be Hollywood’s next big comedienne and she knocks it out of the park in a way not seen since Reese Witherspoon proved that she could be goofy and endearing in “Legally Blonde.” In fact, I would submit that Faris actually trumps Witherspoon because in the case of the latter, while she was funny and charming as all get out, you could occasionally hear the gears grinding as she dove into the whimsy with the kind of grim determination that Tracy Flick once brought to a student government election. With Faris, on the other hand, the effervescence never feels forced for an instant and as a result, she takes what could have been just another dumb-blonde character and transforms her into someone so instantly likable that even the sternest curmudgeon will find it impossible to resist her. The secret to her performance is that in her hands, Shelley is not necessarily a dumb blonde after all--she is a sweet and kind person who doesn’t have a mean bone in her body, is beautiful without being conceited about it and genuinely wants to help anyone she comes across without a moment’s hesitation because she wants everyone else to be as happy as she is. And because Faris has made Shelley so completely likable right from the start, it becomes impossible to be anything but charmed by her no matter what she says or does. This is not as easy to do as it sounds--the list of failed dumb blondes is too long and depressing to go into--but Faris’ performance (especially the way that she nails practically every laugh line that she gets to deliver) is so funny and inspired that I would rank it on the exact same comedic plateau that Robert Downey Jr. is currently resting upon in the wake of his similarly inspired work in “Tropic Thunder.”

Clearly, “The House Bunny” isn’t perfect by any means. Outside of Emma Stone and Kat Dennings (who respectively proved their comedic chops in “Superbad” and “The 40-Year-Old Virgin”), the other sorority girls aren’t really given much of anything to do and the screenplay tosses in far too many villains for its own good--did the story really need an evil rival sorority hell-bent on destroying the good guys for no discernible reason? And yet, while the film itself may not be a classic comedy by even the laxest standards, it is a frequently hilarious one indeed and it does contain a performance from Anna Faris that is pretty close to perfect. Now I realize that some of you may be working under the assumption that I am just a sucker for a pretty face and that her performance cannot possibly be as good as I am making it. If you go to the movie and have your doubts, here is a test for you. During an early scene at the Playboy Mansion, she wakes up amongst a pile of pillows and stuffed animal and greets her beloved pet cat by saying “You look dapper,” a phrase that may not look like much on the page but which comes across brilliantly through her delivery. If you don’t simultaneously laugh and instantly fall in love with both Faris and her character at that exact moment, you might as well get up and look for another film to see because if you can resist that, you are unlikely to respond to any of its other charms.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=17099&reviewer=389
originally posted: 09/02/08 15:17:22
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User Comments

12/18/09 art THIS WHOLE MOVIE WAS A JOKE! 1 stars
11/09/08 Samantha Pruitt Anna Faris is hilarious i wish the movie was better, for more laughs see Smiley Face 4 stars
10/10/08 Unfunny ...really unfunny 1 stars
10/10/08 Colleen H I didn't want to like this...but I laughed like a hyena. 4 stars
9/29/08 s painful. i was literally in pain watching this. 1 stars
9/15/08 Carla A. Anna Faris is talented and funny. She deserves better! 3 stars
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  22-Aug-2008 (PG-13)
  DVD: 23-Dec-2008


  DVD: 23-Dec-2008

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