I have serious problems with The House Bunny as a movie that girls and young women are going to be watching and perhaps emulating, but Anna Faris, that great clown princess, helped me look past many of them. Faris has been around throughout this decade, mostly in the margins of other people’s movies, saying sweetly lunkheaded things or falling over; she has been the unifying element of the scattershot Scary Movie series, and when she finally got her own vehicle — the stoner comedy Smiley Face, (barely) released earlier this year — the script let her down. As a fan of Faris, I hope The House Bunny does for her what Legally Blonde did for Reese Witherspoon (the same two female scripters wrote both films), though I also hope Faris holds onto her particular comic edge (Witherspoon didn’t).
Faris is Shelley, a bunny at the Playboy Mansion who gets booted out before she can realize her dream of being Miss November. Hugh Hefner is in the movie, so the Playboy ethos and lifestyle don’t come in for much, if any, criticism; it’s as if Gloria Steinem never wrote “A Bunny’s Tale” forty-five years ago. Shelley finds herself at the doorstep of an endangered sorority house, Zeta Alpha Zeta (the initials may be a tribute to the Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker comedy trio, of Airplane and The Naked Gun and two of the Scary Movies, known in the trades as ZAZ). The Zetas are nerds and geeks, so nobody will pledge to their house; Shelley’s solution is a Fabulous Makeover for the girls, so as to attract boys.
The House Bunny, like Legally Blonde, says that it’s okay to be superficial as long as you’re also kind and keep the sisterhood in mind. Every boy in the movie is a dunce, with the exception of Colin Hanks as a student who goes on progressively unsuccessful dates with Shelley, who tries too hard both times to impress him. First she plays the blonde bombshell, and that goes nowhere; then, having been disabused of her notion that “boys don’t like girls who are too smart,” she hits the library and buries herself in books, accumulates a lot of data without context, and recites facts from index cards. Nowhere in this does she learn that maybe knowledge is beneficial for oneself, not just to snag a cute guy. (Nor does she have occasion to use any of the information that might’ve penetrated her skull — at least Reese Witherspoon used her knowledge of perms to get Ali Larter off a murder rap.)
You will also wait in vain for the movie to notice that there isn’t much difference between the Playboy Mansion and the sorority system. Post-makeover, the girls find themselves being as snotty as the rival sisters who want to take over their house, but this is glossed over with a speech, after which the girls decide to modify their style halfway between their own and Shelley’s (again with the focus on looks). Just give up the house and reject the whole rotten Greek system, I thought to myself, but no. The movie attracted some grumbling from the real-life sorority Zeta Tau Alpha, who felt that the fictional sorority’s name and logo were insultingly close to theirs, and on a Greek message board, someone posted that those who made the movie are just GDIs jealous of the superior Greeks who’ll get better jobs and make more money. Nice. “GDI,” incidentally, is the frat term for non-Greeks; it stands for God Damned Independent. Doubly nice. This is the system the movie wants its heroines to be a part of. As for the bit where Shelley finds out one of the girls (Emma Stone) is a virgin and throws an elaborate “Aztec party” (with what money?) to “sacrifice” her, just like the parties back at the Mansion, words fail me. Is this shindig not to be seen as gross because a woman threw it?
But, again, Anna Faris redeems a lot of it. Whether it’s Shelley’s unique pronunciation of “philanthropy” or the table-wrecking results of her second date (if even “I drink your milkshake” became a catchphrase, Shelley’s hapless “Sorry for the gravity” deserves to), Faris plays dumb so warmly and with such endearing quirks (the weird vocal thing she does when repeating someone’s name) that we just give in to her, even if, once again, the movie isn’t worthy of her. Now I’d like to see her play smart and just as funny, and in a movie that doesn’t require her to show her butt or wear bunny ears.