A brief, sum-it-all-up-in-one-line description of The House Bunny would probably go something like this: Imagine if a sequel to Legally Blonde and a sequel to Clueless had a child and it was adopted by a sequel to Revenge of the Nerds. That's The House Bunny. Thankfully, a strong and very funny performance from Anna Faris -- as well as decent-enough turns from Emma Stone and Kat Dennings -- save this late summer slacker from flunking out of theaters completely. It's familiar, it doesn't make you work for a laugh and, heck, for some it might be a nice way to cap off a long, dark, foul-mouthed summer full of superheroes, stoners and sequels.
To Shelley Darlingson (Faris), living in the Playboy Mansion is a fairytale come true. Sure, she's not a centerfold ... yet ... and was only featured in a few pictorials (Girls with GEDs, Girls with Charlie Sheen), but that doesn't stop her from bringing half-naked cheer and joy to anyone within shouting distance. Things take a turn for the worse, however, when Shelley's told that Hef doesn't want her in the mansion anymore -- that 27 is, like, 59 in Bunny years. With nowhere to go, a suitcase full of skimpy outfits and the rusty, beaten-up station wagon she arrived in, Shelley wanders the streets until eventually she stumbles upon a whole bunch of mansions that look just like home ... only they're fraternity and sorority houses ... but good ol' Shelley don't know the difference.
In fact, Shelley don't know much of anything -- except how to sell sex appeal to horny boys, men, children (animals?) -- and lucky for her, one sorority on campus kinda needs help in that department. The Zeta house, full of the kind of girls you wouldn't wish upon your worst enemy, is this close to being shut down due to their lack of new pledges. And if they don't get 30 pledges by (insert the running time of the movie), then no more house, no more sisterhood and ... you know the drill. The Zetas need a new house mother, some style and a little attention from the opposite sex. Shelley, on the other hand, needs a place to crash and something to do with herself. Together, they're a match made in size zero.
And what exactly does Shelley inherit with the Zetas? Well, there's Natalie (Stone), who's book-smart, awkward and uncomfortable in her own skin; Mona (Dennings), the dark, punked-out feminist; Harmony (Katharine McPhee), the pregnant hippie; Joanne (Rumer Willis), the quiet girl inconveniently strapped to a full-body brace; Carrie Mae (Dana Goodman), the butch tomboy with a deeper voice than one cares to hear; and Lily (Kiely Williams), who texts everyone her thoughts from the closet she's always hiding in. Can Shelley turn these girls into hot, attractive, popular sex objects in enough time so that they get their pledges and keep their sorority house?
I know what you're thinking? That's it? That's the movie? And all it does is teach girls that they have to dress like sluts in order to succeed in life? Well, no, but for a little while that's the path it takes. Eventually, things change -- as they always do -- but we'll leave those spoilers out for the sake of you wanting to go in fresh. When The House Bunny is at its best, Faris is front and center and throwing out one-liners with the skill of a seasoned vet. Stone, with more to do here than play "girl in background" or "girl someone else wants to get with" shows lots of promise, and it's almost unfortunate that her and Faris couldn't spend more time together on screen, riffing off ridiculous and random lines of dialogue.
With most of the attention on Faris and Stone, the other characters don't get much to do other than follow the crowd, with the exception of Joanne -- who eventually sheds that body brace -- but she wasn't very interesting to begin with. We're looking at caricatures here, with not much meat on their bones (literally and figuratively), and a script that felt like it was built around a few fantastic bits of dialogue, but not an actual story. A subplot involving Hef and "the girls" is poorly written (and acted), and Colin Hanks steps in briefly as Shelley's intellectual love interest, but spends most of his time watching her play the lovable fool instead. It hits the beats it's supposed to hit, though nothing fresh, freaky or fun is really offered.
Fred Wolf (Strange Wilderness) brings lots of pop-centric color, music and montages to this pink park-and-ride, and it's enough to impress the pre-teen girls in the audience even though the subject matter (Playboy, fraternities, sororities) lends itself more to the R rating. That being said, watching Faris prance about playing Playboy's dumbest blonde is worth the price of admission in itself, so go in with your brain on neutral and enjoy the movie for what it is: A simple, seductive slice of late-summer sunshine.
For more on The House Bunny, see our interview with Anna Faris.