The story of the ugly duckling that eventually becomes a beautiful swan is one that Hollywood tells over and over again with varying results. As such stories go, the recent Anna Faris comedy, The House Bunny, falls somewhere short of satisfying, but not in the complete disaster range. As a social commentary the film is far closer to disaster.
In the film, Faris plays Shelley Darlingson, a Playboy Bunny who has never made Playmate of the Month. Following Shelley's 27th birthday (which is 59, we're told, in "Bunny years"), she is summarily dismissed from the Playboy Mansion. Somehow, someway she manages to find herself at a local college and gets hired as a housemother for a down-and-out sorority.
On their last legs, the girls of Zeta Alpha Zeta are sorority misfits. They are led by Natalie (Emma Stone), and while they all seem to like the notion of service and helping the community, they subscribe to none of the other common sorority tropes. Enter Shelley, who teaches them all about dressing sexier, wearing makeup, attracting boys – the sort of frivolities one would expect from a Playboy Bunny.
Part Revenge of the Nerds, part Can't Buy Me Love, part umpteen other films you've seen before, The House Bunny offers little, if anything, new and different. It's not a bad film for being an amalgam of several others, but it certainly does fail to stand out.
Faris is funny as Shelley, but even after her final transformation in which she allegedly has grown into a new, different, better person does the audience really get the sense that anything is different about her. There is never really any sort of doubt in the audience's mind that she will end up with Colin Hanks' affable, boring, love-interest character, Oliver.
Of course, what is most concerning about the film is not its predictability; not it's been-there, done-that sensibility; not even its inability to create any single new joke. No, what's most concerning about the film is its incredibly negative stereotype of women. Natalie, Harmony (Katharine McPhee), Mona (Kat Dennings), and Joanne (Rumer Willis) are all at least initially hesitant of Shelley giving them a makeover, but they soon give in and turn off their brains with reckless abandon. Mona, the most hesitant, headstrong, and feminist of the girls, give in just like the rest. She seems utterly thrilled with the notion that boys might talk to her (despite her pretending to be above such things).
By the end of the film, the girls of Zeta and Shelley are able to find a happy medium between smart, unattractive, and unpopular, and ditzy, attractive, and popular, but it's all rather simplistic and an odd set of choices to force the girls to make. Additionally, it is the character of Mona who should be telling them the entire time that they don't have to dress sexy and flirt ostentatiously to be popular, but she gives in. That fact by itself seems to make the film's entire message that feminism and attracting boys are mutually exclusive and that even the most staunch of feminists would rather have a boyfriend than stick to her ideals. It is, at best, a very uncomfortable message to send (I don't want to enter into a discussion of what it represents at worst, but it's not pretty).
In the face of such a criticism some will unquestionably suggest that the film isn't trying to enter into such a discussion, that the film is trying to be nothing more, or less, than a perfectly innocent (rather chaste, when one considers the Playboy Bunny aspect) film. That may be true, but it does enter into the discussion nonetheless, and once the discussion has begun, the film's problems become all too apparent.
The Blu-ray release of The House Bunny contains an assortment of deleted scenes and several short behind-the-scenes featurettes. The special features all appear in high definition, but never really get beyond the usual superficial promotional sort of piece. This is particularly true when the focus of the featurettes is on the women of The Girls Next Door, a series about three Playboy Bunnies who also have bit parts in the film.
In high definition, the comedy is bright and colorful with the copious amounts of pink really popping off the screen. As this is a light comedy, the TrueHD 5.1 channel mix only gets a few scenes to really show itself off, including a few party scenes and some good sound effects when the door to Shelley's beater of a car has its door opened or closed.
The House Bunny certainly looks and sounds great on Blu-ray, but unfortunately there just isn't much there beyond that. As a comedy it is perfectly mundane, but its discussion of gender and gender relations is more than a little distressing.