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Case Number 15465

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The House Bunny

Sony // 2008 // 97 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Erich Asperschlager // January 16th, 2009

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All Rise...

Judge Erich Asperschlager's turn-offs include rude people and non-anamorphic widescreen.

Editor's Note

Our review of The House Bunny (Blu-Ray), published December 19th, 2008, is also available.

The Charge

"Being a centerfold is the highest honor there is. It says 'I'm naked in a magazine…unfold me.'"

Opening Statement

It would be easy to dismiss The House Bunny, but don't. It's one of those rare romantic comedies both you and your significant other can enjoy. Yes, it's about an ex-Playboy Bunny who transforms a ragtag group of sorority misfits into the most popular girls in school. Yes it has a cartoonishly evil rival sorority, a crusty dean, and a predictable ending. But it also has sharp writing, well-earned laughs, and a lovable leading lady.

Facts of the Case

Living in the Playboy Mansion has been a dream come true for Shelley (Anna Faris, Friends), who considers "Hef" and the girls to be her family, but it all comes crashing down the morning after her 27th birthday when she gets a letter asking her to leave the mansion because she's gotten too old. With nowhere to go, Shelley ends up at a local college where she asks the girls of the unpopular Zeta Alpha Zeta sorority to let her be their house mother. Though most of the girls are uneasy about Shelley—especially ultra-feminist Mona (Kat Dennings, Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist)—their defacto leader, Natalie (Emma Stone), hopes the former Bunny's experience with boys and parties will help them get the pledges they need to keep the sorority open and out of the hands of the snobby Phi Iota Mu, whose scheming house mother, Mrs. Hagstrom (Beverly D'Angelo, National Lampoon's Vacation), has plans to buy Zeta once it closes.

The Evidence

The House Bunny begins and ends with Anna Faris. She's the reason the movie works, and quite literally the reason the movie exists. Faris came up with the idea for Bunny and for the character of Shelley about a decade ago, asking herself what happens to women who leave the Playboy Mansion's walled garden of earthly delights. I doubt Faris could have anticipated that in the time it took for Adam Sandler's production company to turn her idea into a movie, everyone with a TV and basic cable would have a peek inside the famed mansion's walls, thanks to the E! network reality show The Girls Next Door. She certainly owes a debt of gratitude to Hugh Hefner and live-in girlfriends Holly, Bridget, and Kendra—not only for making cameo appearances in Bunny, but for inadvertently laying the groundwork for the movie.

Let's not give too much credit to E!'s cult hit, though. There are a lot of fine performances in The House Bunny, but Anna Faris (who co-produced the film) is by far the best. Shelley isn't the foremost dumb blonde in movie history, but she's definitely one of the most endearing. Like a more worldly counterpart to Amy Adams's virginal princess in Enchanted, Faris manages the difficult task of playing dumb and naive without ever letting her character seem helpless. Endlessly optimistic, she makes a difference for a group of girls, not by accident or luck, but because she sees the best in people and helps them see it, too. Shelley looks, and dresses, like a Playboy Bunny, but by the end of the movie the revealing dresses and plunging necklines aren't as attention-grabbing as her sweetness and sincerity. She seems like a real girl next door—not as part of some adolescent fantasy, but as someone you'd actually want to know. It would be easy to think of Faris's Shelley as a retread of Reese Witherspoon's Elle Woods in Legally Blonde—especially considering the two movies were written by the same screenwriters—but while Witherspoon created a memorable character, I never really believed her as an airhead. Faris is certainly smarter than the character she plays, but man is she convincing.

Faris's tough acting job is made easier by a talented supporting cast that includes veteran actors Beverly D'Angelo and Christopher McDonald (Happy Gilmore), as well as relative up-and-comers like Superbad's Emma Stone, The 40-Year-Old Virgin's Kat Dennings, American Idol finalist Katherine McPhee, Rumer Willis (daughter of Bruce Willis and Demi Moore), and—another in the famous parent parade—Colin Hanks (son of Tom) as Shelley's love interest, Oliver. The only real knock against the characters is that each fills a specific type ("the feminist," "the hippie," "the girl who wears a brace," etc.). It's hard to believe that the girls of Zeta would want to join a sorority in the first place, let alone undergo the kind of physical and personality transformation they do once Shelley enters the picture. Of course, to complain that this movie is unrealistic misses the point.

If House Bunny feels familiar, that's because it owes a lot to teen movies of the '70s and '80's. Part Karate Kid, part Can't Buy Me Love, part Back to School, part every movie where a nerdy girl takes off her glasses and is suddenly hot, Bunny combines the themes of that period and asks why we abandoned the idea that outsiders deserve to give snobby rich kids their comeuppance. Heck, if Judd Apatow can bring back the raunchy teen sex comedy, why can't Faris and former SNL head writer Fred Wolf, who directed the film, resurrect the cheesy save-the-(blank) college movie?

All the '80s nostalgia is helped by the fact that House Bunny is legitimately funny. The requisite gross-out gags are mercifully rare, and Faris gets in some great one-liners and physical gags. The funniest moments are all character-driven—Shelley's tendency, for instance, of repeating the name of a new acquaintance in a growly Yoda voice because it helps her remember it, or her definition of "charity" as once letting Bob Saget grind against her during a slow dance. Not every joke hits, but Faris's spot-on comic timing makes sure most of them do.

Because this is a movie about a Playboy Bunny, it's probably worth mentioning that The House Bunny is plenty sexy, but has no explicit nudity. There's a brief shot of Faris's bare backside, but if you were hoping for more than that you should look elsewhere…pervert.

If you were planning to use House Bunny as a reference disc you'll be disappointed, but there's nothing in the DVD transfer to really complain about. The warm color palette bolsters the elaborate costumes and lavish sets, and though the detail is a little soft, it fits the film's feminine tone. The 5.1 surround mix takes decent advantage of the rear speakers with some atmospheric effects, pumping out the pop soundtrack during the party and montage scenes.

A movie like House Bunny could probably have gotten away with skimping on extras, but this disc has more than an hour's worth of bonus content. The bulk of the extras are a series of featurettes about key cast members, the film's many cameo appearances, costumes, Hugh Hefner and the Girls Next Door, memories from the shoot, and the Zeta girls' sexy calendar photo shoot. There's also eleven minutes of mostly inconsequential deleted scenes, and a music video for Katherine McPhee's cover of "I Know What Boys Like," for the American Idol crowd. We're talking quantity over quality, but the extras should satisfy anyone who wants to know more about the making of the movie.

The Rebuttal Witnesses

There's a fine line between silly and stupid, and depending on your mood when you watch House Bunny, you might not have as much fun with it as my wife and I did. Your enjoyment will also depend on whether or not you think the film's "be yourself" message is undermined by the way it seems to equate being pretty and dressing sexy with popularity for most of the movie. Even though the characters realize that changing their looks ends up changing them in ways they don't like, the realization comes fairly late, and as far as I can tell, no one gives up their push-up bra or miniskirt. Is it believable? No. Sexist? A little. But so are most other fairy tales.

Closing Statement

Much about House Bunny is disposable, but that doesn't mean you should avoid it. It's fun, funny, and stars one of the most capable comic actresses you've probably never heard of. It shouldn't take more than "It's about a Playboy Bunny who…" to get your boyfriend or husband to sit down for movie night, but there's a lot more than eye candy to this charming comedy.

The Verdict

Sexily Not Guilty.

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Scales of Justice

Video: 85
Audio: 85
Extras: 75
Acting: 90
Story: 85
Judgment: 85

Perp Profile

Studio: Sony
Video Formats:
• 2.40:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
Subtitles:
• French
Running Time: 97 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
Genres:
• Comedy
• Romance
• Romantic Comedies

Distinguishing Marks

• Deleted Scenes
• Featurettes
• Music Video

Accomplices

• IMDb








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