Sunday 16 September 2018

Movie Review: The House Bunny (2008)

An empowerment comedy, The House Bunny makes the grade thanks to an above-average script and two committed lead performances.

Abandoned at an orphanage at birth, Shelley (Anna Faris) blossoms into a beauty and finds a home at the Hugh Hefner (playing himself) Playboy mansion. Just after her 27th birthday party she receives an eviction notice presumably because she is too old. Out in the real world for the first time, Shelley stumbles onto the Zeta Alpha Zeta sorority house on a university campus, and finds seven misfit girls themselves facing eviction because they cannot attract any new pledges.

The Zeta girls include the brainy Natalie (Emma Stone), who gets tongue tied in front of her crush Colby, and the piercings-happy Mona (Kat Dennings). Shelley installs herself as the housemother and proceeds to rejuvenate the residents, encouraging them to express their sexuality and organize parties. She also meets and develops an attraction towards Oliver (Colin Hanks), who volunteers at a seniors' care home. The reinvigorated Zeta girls take the campus by storm, antagonizing their prissy adversaries at the Phi Iota Mu sorority.

Directed by Fred Wolf and co-produced by Faris and Adam Sandler, The House Bunny occasionally carries the whiff of cheap Sandler productions, with some stiff supporting acting, scenes that just don't work, perfunctory directing and unpolished first-draft dialogue. The story about campus eccentrics struggling to fit in, coupled with strong echoes of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, is out-of-the-box stale.

And yet the film often clicks, thanks mainly to the two lead actresses. Anna Faris brings just the right touch of self-deprecating innocent bewilderment to Shelley and convinces as a woman who may be much more capable than she thinks she is. And Emma Stone, in an early career role, adds plenty of zest as the smart cookie who just needs a nudge to develop better social skills. Together Faris and Stone propel several scenes towards excellent comic territory, helped by a periodically sparkling script.

Elsewhere the film avoids vulgarity, nudity and body fluid jokes, and marches purposefully towards a predictable non-judgmental message of celebrating individuality, with all the mean antagonists finding their harmless comeuppance. Even the folks back at the Playboy mansion turn out to be not so bad after all. The House Bunny is an altogether better than expected wholesome happy hop.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

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