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THE HOUSE BUNNY (2008) **1/2 movie review by COOP

Posted on August 28th, 2008
Posted on August 28th, 2008


Fairy tales allow for the audience to feel uplifted when presented with a story where everything goes according to plan and everyone lives happily ever after. While cinema constantly evolves, this particular formula rarely changes. “The House Bunny” is no exception to this predictable pattern, but one can enjoy the pattern; no matter how cliché, when it’s done well. Add a comedic prodigy like Anna Faris to the equation, and you have a better-than-average chance at winning over a cynical audience.

Shelly (Faris), a lonely orphan turned intellectually clueless Playboy Bunny, basks in her pampered life as a resident of the Playboy Mansion. On her 27th birthday, she expects Hef to finally give her a shot as a centerfold. Instead she gets walking papers because 27 is like “59 in bunny-years.” A chain of mishaps lead her to the Zeta house, a socially clueless sorority that desperately needs a sizable pledge class in order to survive. Figuring that life in a sorority house is comparable to life in the Playboy Mansion, Shelly offers to help the sisters become popular and recruit pledges in exchange for a job as their new house mother. Local rest-home manager, Oliver (Colin Hanks looking oddly like a young Timothy Hutton), becomes Shelly’s object of affection. Unfortunately for Shelly he likes intelligent girls, thus forcing her to seek the help of her nerd sisters to enrich her empty brain and win over her fairy tale prince.

“The House Bunny” would have failed without Faris who turns a potentially unlikable and annoying character into a loveable goof. She delivers Shelly’s lines with a confidence that surpasses the inanely written dialogue, giving the character a unique dimension and a genuinely sweet personality. Faris owns the character so completely she makes lines like, “Oooo… somebody wet their sexy pants!” actually funny. It’s really Faris’s comic timing that makes the character work, and I think Hollywood will take notice of her star potential. This performance may catapult her into the comedy “A-list.”

The likeable supporting characters help Faris anchor the film from sinking into formula tedium. Emma Stone (“Superbad”), who plays Zeta President Natalie, is often type-cast as the brainy beauty. Here she pulls off her uncool alter-ego so convincingly, her transition into glamour seems a stretch until she makes the full transformation. One great gag involves Natalie botching multiple conversations with her jock boy-crush by segueing into nerdy subjects like “Battlestar Galactica,” which forces Shelly to bolt in and save her from scaring him off. Equally likeable is Kat Dennings as the sarcastic Goth-girl Mona whom Shelly doesn’t win over easily. I expect Kat to break through as a teen favorite when she stars opposite Michael Cera in “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist” next month. American Idol Katherine McPhee lends her (brief) singing and acting talents to the cast. Rumer Willis, daughter of Bruce and Demi, also makes a quiet supporting debut. Neither actress gets enough screen time to prove any star potential, but the silver screen exposure can’t hurt their future chances.

The film adds no new twists to the genre, but the fairy tale formula rarely does. Expect the obligatory makeover scene followed by the newly beautified sorority girls walking slow motion through the campus, giving the entire university whiplash. There’s also a clichéd scene where the girls all sing together in front of a crowd (giving McPhee a moment to shine). You can also expect villains – three separate ones working independently to ruin Shelly – which is a ridiculous overkill for this type of story.

While one would expect this to be a raunchy Rated-R comedy given the nature of the concept, this actually qualifies as a sweet natured, PG-13 film. There is brief nudity and a few swears, but the rest of the film is nearly suitable for family viewing. Once edited for television, “The House Bunny” could become a cable hit even for a tame viewership.

Think of it as a cross between “Legally Blonde” and “Old School” with the quality and humor that would satisfy fans of either film. Although it’s nothing special, I can recommend “The House Bunny” based on its positive message to teens, its harmlessly enjoyable story and a breakout lead performance from Faris, who I believe is destined for comedy stardom.

Rating: **1/2 out of 5 stars

Trailer below…

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