Anna Faris is a rarity in young Hollywood — a fairly known
commodity and proven performer to boot, but still an undervalued stock. Collectively, the four Scary Movie films in which she has starred have taken in over $430 million domestically, and Faris’ supporting turns in movies like The Hot Chick, Waiting, Just Friends, My Super Ex-Girlfriend and, of course, Sophia Coppola’s Lost in Translation have shown her to be an inspired comic performer, equally adept at blank-faced satire, unhinged farce and physical slapstick. Yet, thus far, true breakout stardom has eluded Faris. Her highest profile solo-starring turn, however, The House Bunny, has the marketing advantage of her in a skimpy pink bikini.
The first film from executive producer Adam Sandler’s Happy Madison production company to fully give itself over to a mostly female ensemble, The House Bunny
is an utterly predictable and formulaic comedy given a huge kick in the
keester courtesy of its effervescent star. The movie’s
inner-beauty/empowerment arc is consignment-shop thin, and handled with
little élan by Fred Wolf, a former Saturday Night Live writer and Team Sandler veteran who stumbled through his directorial debut in the form of this year’s quietly dumped Strange Wilderness. In the end, though, it doesn’t matter, because every moment Faris is on screen is a moment in which something delightful could happen, and that’s as good a reason as any these days to go to the movies.
(above left, with Emma Stone) stars as Shelley Darlingson, a third-tier
Playboy bunny (she of the “Girls of the Midwest” and “Girls with GEDs”
pictorials) who aspires to print centerfold-dom (“It’s like the highest honor — it says, ‘I’m naked in the middle of a magazine… unfold me’”).
When a misunderstanding facilitated by a conniving housemate leads to
Shelley getting the boot from the Playboy mansion, though, she sets out
on her own, and stumbles across a small college with a sorority house
in need. Unless they can sign a robust new pledge class, the seven
socially clueless women of Zeta Alpha Zeta will lose their house. Needing a place to stay, Shelley talks her way into becoming their new house mother, and a cracked, colorful alliance is formed.
Throw in a few token love interests (including Colin Hanks for Faris’
character), some bureaucratic bit players (Christopher McDonald and Beverly D’Angelo) both sympathetic and hard-line, and some scheming counterparts — in the form of the girls
of rival sorority Phi Iota Mu, led by Sarah Wright — and one doesn’t need their own
GED to figure out where this is all headed.
Owing to the fact that it’s penned by the same screenwriters, Karen McCullah Lutz and Kirsten Smith, The House Bunny at times feels like a tailor-made companion piece to 2001’s Legally Blonde, both in color (pink, everywhere!) and bouncy tone. Though there are moderately well integrated cameos from Hugh Hefner and his real-life Aryan princesses,
there are also more than a few narrative bumps along the way, and gears
sometimes grind for a scene or two when characters are forced to more
nakedly advance the story. (It’s best, for instance, not to think about
the logistics of Shelley teaching the gals all about what boys like,
when American Idol runner-up Katharine McPhee plays a very
pregnant coed.) Speaking generally, though, there’s actually some
amusement to the gender inversion of Greek-clash college flick clichés,
and the value of the ditzy quips (“Eyes are like the nipples of the face,” advises Shelley) and some other banter are certainly above average. It’s funny, too, to watch Shelley discover that a steaming manhole isn’t always the best place to try to re-enact a Marilyn Monroe moment.
Faris’ breathy essence, though, is both the engine and the gasoline that makes this movie run.
(She also nabs a producer credit, her first.) With her in the driver’s
seat, the sturdy Oldsmobile-feel of this plot earns its racing stripes.
Faris has the savvy comic timing and inherent appeal of a new millennial Carole Lombard or Lucille Ball,
and the casting dilemmas she presents — clearly too talented and
naturally charismatic for eye-batting girlfriend roles, and such a
force of potential personality that she would eclipse a lot of drippy
rom-com leading men, like Edward Burns or Luke Wilson — summon to mind a similar problem faced by Téa Leoni,
another under-appreciated comedic performer. Whatever its final
commercial haul, one thinks, however, that the skimpy pink bikinis on
display in The House Bunny might finally help Faris get Hollywood’s lasting attention.
Housed in a regular plastic Amray case, The House Bunny is presented in 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen, with English and French language Dolby digital 5.1 audio mixes and optional subtitles in the same language. Eleven-plus minutes of deleted scenes headline the extra features, though they run unscrubbed, and with time-code information on the bottom. A couple of the scenes, rightly excised, deal with a story strand in which Shelley, after being forced to pay for parking for the first time in her life, takes the advice of the lot attendant and gets a job, waitressing at IHOP.
It’s disappointing that for a film based on an idea she herself had more than two years ago, there isn’t an audio commentary track with Faris, but those are the breaks. She’s in demand, I guess, and couldn’t squeeze it into her schedule. In its place, the DVD producers opt for sheer volume, in the form of a whopping 12 featurettes. Truth be told, these bits run about 50 to 55 minutes when strung together (a “play all” feature is thankfully included on the disc), and could have easily been integrated into a more cohesive long-form documentary with a bit more editorial effort. Interviews with all prominent cast and crew members are included, from the screenwriters and members of Sandler’s creative team (producer Allen Covert, et al) to even ex-USC quarterback Matt Leinart, who cameos in a scene at the Playboy Mansion.
Various segments focus on the ensemble female players; the make-up and hair transformation of Shelley’s Zeta housemates; the film’s volcano-centric party sequence; Colin Hanks; the movie’s calendar shoot; and the on-set experiences of first-time actress Katharine McPhee and first-time actor Tyson Ritter, from the band The All-American Rejects. Naturally, one bouncy segment focuses more on Faris, and she reflects on the creation of her character, her 50 costume changes and interactions with others. Also included, yawningly, is a music video for McPhee’s version of “I Know What Boys Like,” which plays under the credits and, even more worthlessly, a one-minute “introduction” to the video by ever-sunny McPhee. Rounding things out are a gallery of previews for Hancock, The Other Boleyn Girl and 10 more Sony DVD releases. To view The House Bunny‘s trailer, click here; to purchase the film on DVD via Amazon, click here. B+ (Movie) B (Disc)