Sitting through The House Bunny, I found myself laughing more than I expected to. My expectations were so low after seeing the trailer that I didn’t think I would enjoy the film at all, but there were, in fact, points in time when I was having a bit of fun. The majority of the laughs come from Anna Farris, who has the lead role, mostly because of her (sad) dedication to the part. If it had been someone with less charm or desire, The House Bunny would be a total dud. As it is, it’s just kind of bad.
The film begins with Shelley (Faris), a Playboy Bunny, telling us the story about how she got to this point in her life. An orphan, she was hated by everyone as a child, but eventually became pretty and was adopted by Hugh Hefner, I guess. It’s rather unclear and doesn’t matter. She loves life there, but on the day after celebrating her 27th birthday, she is given a letter from Hefner telling her to get out of his house in the next two hours. Now homeless, she winds up becoming the housemother of a sorority house, that’s about to be shut down due to a lack of pledges.
The reason for the lack of pledges is that the members of the Zeta house don’t understand how to lure in the opposite sex, as they are book smart and therefore lack any social skills. Shelley is the opposite, and you can probably see how this is going to go. Shelley will teach them something in hopes of saving the house, they’ll teach Shelley something so that she can try to become the boyfriend of a guy named Oliver (Colin Hanks), and everything will hopefully work out for everybody else.
Of course, there are a couple of obstacles that are going to get in the way, but those are necessary to create false tension. This is a light, fluffy rom-com, and nothing truly threatening can happen in it. The best you can hope for are some funny lines and maybe some sweet moments. Admittedly, there are a couple of each scattered throughout, but not enough in order to make the film a worthwhile watch. The PG-13 rating doesn’t help matters, either, as it basically eliminates the thing that makes Playboy, well, Playboy.
This is a film that did need an R rating, simply because its subject matter demands it. I get that not much of the film takes place in the Mansion, and that most of it is fine with the PG-13, but when your lead character is a Playboy Bunny, what rating do you think the movie should have? It simply doesn’t make sense for it to be rated PG-13, and it also ensures that the dialogue sounds incredibly cheesy. I kept wondering if people really talked like the characters in the movie, and the answer I kept giving myself was a resounding “no.”
While the story is as clichéd and predictable as you’d expect, it still feels like it moves at too quick of a pace. Once Shelley dresses up the girls, their personalities are instantly transformed. When the revelation occurs that they’re no long themselves and therefore bad people, it doesn’t feel realistic because they didn’t actually progress as characters; they were replaced by different ones.
And it’s not even like this film had the bare minimum running time. It plays for just under 100 minutes, and a considerable amount of that time is taken up with fluff. Giving us actual character moments would have made later turns and revelations believable instead of laughable. The “villains,” another Bunny and the leader of another sorority house, are jokes, getting too little screen time to matter, and being about as sinister as the little kid who takes the last Oreo. The former’s subplot doesn’t even get a real conclusion; it just kind of ends and then we’re supposed to be happy that it is over.
I like this general story arc, and if something more was done with it, I might have enjoyed the movie even despite its clichés. I couldn’t look past how formulaic it was, though, even if I did laugh a handful of times. I was happy that it didn’t go down the generic rom-com route, because it would have been intolerable had it done so. I also smiled a touch when it ended, but I think that was more due to the fact that it was over and I could move on with my life.
Anna Faris is the only reason that this works. She is completely dedicated to the role — at least, what the PG-13 rating allows her to do with it — and is believable as a ditzy blonde. There are some enjoyable secondary performances in the supporting cast, too, particularly the ones given by her Zeta housemates. Actors like Emma Stone, Kat Dennings, Katherine McPhee, Kiely Williams and Rumer Willis all show up here, and even Hefner brings us a couple of scenes — they’re not good, but they are there and perhaps bring some credibility and realism, if that’s what you’d call it.
Admittedly, there are some fun moments and the whole thing is harmless enough that I can’t see anyone really hating on The House Bunny, but there isn’t enough here to justify watching it. It takes an incredibly clichéd storyline and does nothing important or memorable with it, and unless you’re a big fan of the cast, I can’t think of a reason to watch it. There are better movies with the same story, and they aren’t hampered by a PG-13 rating like this one is.