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Published: Friday, 8/22/2008

Only skin deep

BY KIRK BAIRD
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Whatever millions Anna Faris will make from The House Bunny, it's not enough.

The star and executive producer of the comedy about a Playboy bunny who becomes house mother to a sorority of misfits practically carries the movie on her diminutive shoulders.

The attractive blonde is a natural comic actress who's not afraid of looking stupid or - horror! - even plain for the sake of a laugh. She even drops trou (or towel, in this case) for a quick nude scene.

Faris is to House Bunny what Reese Witherspoon was to Legally Blonde. Which should come as no surprise since both films share the same screenwriting team, Karen McCullah Lutz and Kirsten Smith.

The films also share the same Sesame Street morals of "It's OK to be yourself" and "Don't judge others by what you see." Never mind that House Bunny is certainly guilty of the latter and occasionally questions the former - all in the name of film plot.

Faris is Shelley Darlingson, a sweet but none-too-bright bunny with dreams of becoming Miss November, who enjoys the life of luxury in the Playboy Mansion. Then tragedy strikes: She turns 27 and is kicked out of the mansion for being too old. (Apparently 27 in bunny years is equivalent to being 59 in normal years.) Homeless, she stumbles onto a college campus and becomes a house mother to Zeta Alpha Zeta, a sorority in desperate need of a makeover (though, of course, the girls don't know it yet). There's bookish Natalie (Emma Stone), women's rights advocate Mona (Kat Dennings), the mannish Carrie Mae (Dana Goodman), and the very pregnant Harmony (American Idol's Katharine McPhee). The fact these actresses are swans masquerading as ugly ducklings is as transparent as the plot that gets them there.

Besides good looks, the Zetas also need 30 pledges to keep their home, which the catty Phi Iota Mu sorority wants for their own. Naturally, the Mus go to great lengths to embarrass the Zetas.

Shelly, though, is determined to save the day. She makes it her mission to beautify the girls and to help them throw great mixers - why does Hollywood insist on filming impossibly elaborate parties for college movies with expensive props no fraternity or sorority could ever afford? - thereby making the girls more attractive to boys and the sorority more attractive to pledges.

Of course, just as the girls must change, so must Shelly, who has fallen for good samaritan Oliver (Colin Hanks) who runs a nursing home. When her sexual advances fail to charm Oliver, Shelly tries the brainy librarian approach with equally disastrous results.

Their relationship seems about as authentic as the college party scene, with Faris and Hanks having as much spark as a dead battery.

But Oliver serves the film's needs in helping Shelly realize the importance of being yourself. Unless, of course, by the film's logic, you're not pretty, in which case you need a beauty makeover, too. So the moral of this fairy tale apparently is, "It's OK to be yourself, just look good doing it."

Perhaps the writers of House Bunny should have paid more attention to another comedy about college outcasts in the Greek system: Revenge of the Nerds.

While borrowing liberally from Revenge of the Nerds' plot, Lutz and Smith seemed to miss the moral of that movie: the Nerds emerge triumphant because of who they are and not how they look or act.

And that message, especially in the age of Paris Hilton, Nicole Richie, et al, is certainly worth hearing.

Contact Kirk Baird at kbaird@theblade.com or 419-724-6734.



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