I didn’t like Animal House (1978). That’s right, I said it. I didn’t find it charming or pleasantly irreverent. Nor did I enjoy Revenge of the Nerds (1984). While fraternities and sororities may hold hidden values, they are never illustrated in these movies. The House Bunny (2008) gives a try for the sorority misfits. What will result? Will it be an inspirational tale of hope and redemption for atypical females and their individualism or a vapid make-over that reinforces the idea that everyone in the world is a mouth-breather or sweet? Can’t it be both. Yes, yes it can.
Shelley (Anna Faris) grew up in the Playboy Mansion with a dream to be a Playboy centerfold. When an evil bunny makes her think she’s been evicted from the Mansion, she finds herself as house mom to the Zetas (ZAZ) at an unnamed university. The Zetas are a rag-tag group of ladies led by Natalie (Emma Stone). They’re about to lose their charter because of how unpopular they are. Across the street, the evil Thetas want to take over their house for the larger amount of pledges their cult…er…sorority will take on. Well, time for the nerds to get sexy.
The last five minutes of this movie almost made it unreviewable for me. I watched this TV movie and it was so bad that I couldn’t even bring myself to write about it. This one, though, was going absolutely fine until the cheese flew into the sky, melted, and covered the entire show with a thick layer of foul banality. You know how it ends before it happens. You think, “Hey, maybe this time it can be different, maybe they’ll go for something closer to truth.” Whether that meant that the sorority folded and the girls remained friends—because “friendship” is more than three letters long (small cringe)—or they succeeded with a well-rounded group of ladies showing the future of a wholesome sorority. Instead, it was the wacky races to a cheese-ball finish and musical number. Ugh.
Okay, let’s act like the last five minutes of the movie didn’t exist. VvvvVvvvVvvv. Done. That was a pretty good movie. The ending was a little abrupt, but it’s better than doing something stupid that they’d regret later, like a concert to save the house or something. What made the movie work wasn’t the silly female-Adam Sandler (producer) style, but the strong cast of characters. Each one had an identity that was part caricature, part real. Carrie Mae (Dana Goodman) had to have been the funniest as the deep-voiced awkward Amazon. She was like an evil sidekick in a Dreamworks movie with her slouch and crazy dialogue. She had the best balance. Some of them were too silly and broke the spell while another just isn’t that strong an actress—why call her out, that’s not nice.
Emma Stone was terrific. Knowing her after three or four great performances as someone desirable—at least to the audience, while unaccountably undesirable in the film’s universe—I looked askance at the idea that she was the lone normal in a house of oddities. But no, with the help of Karen McCullah Lutz and Kirsten Smith (the writers), and her own spectacular charming awkwardness, she—pardon me—let her “freak flag fly” and held the story’s logic firm. And Anna Faris? Best I’ve ever seen her. Great job.
Speaking of the writers, I have to say that a large amount of it was very funny. Is it patronizing to say “I have to say”? I’m saying it in the context that the last five minutes I temporarily forgot were dreadful, so it’s fine. The minority of the film that I disliked consisted mostly of make-overs and a weird sense of college party culture and the importance (or even viability) of popularity. Dialogue, though, was solid.
Fred Wolf directed. I noticed the camera a couple times when it panned up and down to cover a conversation and people starting with their heads out of the frame. Weird. It was rather well produced in other respects—that is, not cheap looking. Other than the ending, the performances were well-captured and I’ll say that goes in the director’s column. Whether editing, cinematography, story, or performances can be appropriately credited to a director is, to me, questionable, but even misattribution is better than a failure to address.
Consider Damsels in Distress (2012) in comparison to The House Bunny. It’s a bit like comparing Rushmore (1998) to St. Trinian’s (2007), but let’s try. Damsels in Distress was about a group of young ladies in college who formed a clique with a common view of self-aggrandizement and going after below average men as good strategy. Here, the weird girls up their game by using simple but effective tricks of cleavage and ego-stroking to get men which would, in turn, increase the popularity of their sorority which would, in turn, allow them to survive in the sorority. The first group of ladies addresses their own psychology head on while the second go after the symptoms of their psychology without realizing what their ultimate goal really is.
Damsels had no time for punchlines while The House Bunny used them repeatedly (along with inanity). Instead, Damsels goes right to the issue presented and talks about it in an odd, atraditionally comic fashion with the look and feel of reality (if quirked beyond recognition). The result is that Damsels answers a question no one is asking without being particularly funny about it. The House Bunny addresses the question I would ask—what is the use of a sorority—but doesn’t provide the answer. You can believe the narrative as presented or not. There is no sense of reality to overcome.
Are these girls friends or are they just thrown together by fate and a common inability to build relationships outside an arbitrary alphabetical assignment? Apologies as an alliterationist. I’m the kind of sap that thinks that a happier ending would be to show that the answer is “Yes.” Give some proofs of their supporting one another. That doesn’t mean tips on how to trick some idiot into thinking that you’re right for him. Oh no, I’ve ventured into gender roles. Too many targets. Overload. Shut down. Good bye.
If I know tastes, and I fancy myself, then this will be fun for the ladies (who have at least some sense of fun) and secure gentlemen. Don’t worry fellas, watch it by yourself, nobody’s judging. At $6.50, it’s a sure bet for ladies (less for gents).