Posted on 6/26/10 12:51 PM
I will be the first to admit this movie wasn't really intended for me. But I still think it could have been better than it was.
THE HOUSE BUNNY (Fred Wolf, 2008) is about an aging would-be Playmate who gets tricked into leaving the Playboy mansion after living there for several years. (Believe it or not, these women really exist. I had a friend who was a cook at the mansion, and told me stories about a particularly deplorable woman who lived there that had been a Playmate in like, the seventies or something, and was really rude and unpleasant. But because all Playmates can live at the mansion whenever and for as long as they wish, she was there, making demands on the staff, looking terrible, and generally embarrassing herself. But I digress...) She thus leaves the only home she's really known, only to find that the real world is a cruel mistress. However, fate intervenes when she stumbles on a college campus and discovers that the loser sorority there do not have a "house mother" (a former sorority member who remains to look over the girls and continue to help the sorority), and are in danger of getting shut down if they don't get 30 new pledges by oh, I don't know... Tuesday, let's say. The problem is, they're all unattractive and no fun to be around, so this is a daunting feat. Shelley, however, is pretty (in fact, she's not much else), and is fun, so she decides to become their house mother to help them get the pledges, and to have a new place to live. There's an evil popular sorority opposing them, however, but our heroes learn from Shelley and she learns from them, they overcome, yadda yadda yadda. If you've seen one movie like this, you've seen 'em all. I call this the "save grandma's farm" plot - a group of misfits has to do something by a certain time or else they lose whatever it is they hold dear. I could give away the ending, but by just telling you what kind of movie it is, I probably already have. The plot is really not all that important.
What is important is the execution, and that's what makes or breaks this kind of movie. This particular film falls into two sub genres - the "outrageous schtick" and "girl film (as opposed to chick flick)", two terms that I'm inventing, but I'm sure somebody has written a book with a better names for. In the former, we have films like AMERICAN PIE (PAUL WEITZ, 1999), DUMB AND DUMBER (Farrelly Brothers, 1994), or more recently, THE HANGOVER (Todd Phillips, 2009); in the latter, the LEGALLY BLONDE movies or MEAN GIRLS (Mark Waters, 2004) or BRING IT ON (Peyton Reed, 2000). The latter are films specifically directed at teenage girls or younger, and give that are intended to give them something to cheer about. Not a bad genre, and I'm sure if I had a daughter, I would take her to these films. The thing is, there was something about MEAN GIRLS or LEGALLY BLONDE (Robert Luketic, 2001) that made them better: the stupidity was always intentional.
I watched this movie largely because I admire Anna Faris for being a creator in this genre, and not just a talent. She executive produced this movie, and two women wrote it (though not directed, which I think is significant). I do think it's important for women to take control in these kinds of films, because they're its primary audience. The thing is, she's not the only significant credit. The other one is Adam Sandler, one of the other producers, and as those who read my reviews know, I hate Adam Sandler films. Not because I hate him as a performer (quite the opposite - when he's on, he's really funny), but because as a producer, he makes really dumb films. I mean really dumb. Really REALLY dumb. And IMO, that's what kills this flick.
There's a distinct difference in something produced by Sandler and something produced by Judd Apatow. Judd Apatow's films have the same kind of outrageous schtick, but they also have genuine warmth where necessary, and heartfelt moments. This makes all the difference. Because those elements are there, you genuinely connect with the characters in his films and can suspend your disbelief at all of the other stuff. It's like not only do you know that none of this could really happen in real life, but you feel like the filmmakers know it too, and are asking you to play along. This type of respect makes the whole experience worthwhile. They're in on the joke, so by extension, so are you. Everybody walks away from the film having a good time.
In a Sandler movie, you feel like the filmmakers are stupid, and they're laughing because they're too dumb to know not to. THE HOUSE BUNNY feels like it really thinks it's getting over on an idiotic public. You're not laughing at the stupidity of fart jokes, you're laughing at fart jokes (I don't recall any fart jokes in this movie, I'm just making a point). That's a lot of what goes on here. Everything is so over the top and implausible, but played just at that level that it's just a whole lot of idiocy. I like Faris. I like what she's trying to do. The girls are okay, and they do the best that they can with this material. But like I said, it's ultimately just too dumb. There's a better way to do this kind of material - CLUELESS (Amy Heckerling, Amy Heckerling, 1995), and the aforementioned MEAN GIRLS, are examples. This, however, is just dumb shit that gets to be made by using the excuse of "hey! There are a lot of people who like dumb shit." That doesn't cut it. There is a legitimate way to do dumb shit well. I wish these filmmakers knew it.