Monday, September 1, 2008

Summer Movies 11: The House Bunny

Well, summer’s come to a close, and with it the slate of summer movies. Now come the fall movies, which are usually action, horror, thriller, and a few early Oscar contenders. Which is why it seemed like a good idea to end the season with a movie that is the epitome of summer – light, frothy, carefree. So I went to see The House Bunny.

Based on the television commercials, I would have said the only way you could get me to see The House Bunny would be to strap me in and tape my eyelids open, Clockwork Orange-style. But I saw the longform trailer which did a much better job of making it look like an appealing movie. (Which, note to studios, television spots are as important as trailers – you almost lost my $10 with your shitty TV cuts.) And then I heard it was written by a female duo, and I’m trying to vote with my wallet to support women behind the camera (the same reason I’ll see The Women opening weekend), so I went.

And I’m glad I did! It’s a really cute movie. It’s not reinventing the wheel by any means, it’s a mashup of tropes we’ve seen before. There’s some Revenge of the Nerds, Clueless, and the usual “be yourself (but better)” message. But it also has a lot going for it.

Anna Faris, for instance. She’s a wonderful comedienne. She’s absolutely fearless and that makes her hysterical. I also caught her in a movie on HBO last week, Smiley Face, which is a rare female stoner comedy, and she was great in that. She has fantastic presence and I have no doubt she’ll go far, assuming Hollywood is smart enough to recognize and write for her talent.

The movie is flat out hilarious. I actually laughed aloud several times, and the “remembering the names in the exorcist voice” scene had me laughing so hard my eyes actually watered, a feat even my beloved Tropic Thunder didn’t achieve.

I like that even after the makeovers, most of the girls still looked a little odd. They cast actually awkward, odd (but not hideous) girls, instead of cookie cutter pretty girls that they frumped up for the first act.

The movie isn’t without flaws, of course. The soundtrack was a little generic. It included “When I Grow Up” by The Pussycat Dolls, a song that might be everything wrong with humanity by a band that’s definitely everything wrong with humanity. Then there was the overused “Girlfriend” by Avril Lavigne. The rest of the tracks were pilfered from Gossip Girl and iPod commercials – Yael Naim’s “New Soul”, “Shut Up and Let Me Go” by the Ting Tings, and “Sour Cherry” by The Kills. None seemed particularly apt for the scenes they were matched with (except for maybe “New Soul”) but rather like the music designer just grabbed whatever was popular and at hand.

The montages – a staple of the genre – were also too many and too fake. I love a good montage as much as the next gal, I really do, but I prefer them to be somewhat rooted in reality. When you and your friends are getting ready to clean up a house, do you line up and put your gloves on one by one? Probably not. I can take one shot like that and forgive it for the “ode to spunk” that it is, but when the whole montage looks choreographed I get pulled right out. Also, it’s kind of weird that the father of the bun cooking in the pregnant girl’s oven is never mentioned. Like, really weird, actually.

Finally, there is the inherent problem with any “makeover” movie and the risk of sending the wrong message. Even when the made-over girls eventually realize they were happier before and provide the movie with its moral lesson (“be yourself” blah blah blah), the fact is that the movie still portrays unattractive or oddball girls as social lepers in need of saving, and even if they go back to what they were before, they always retain enough of their refinement to stay socially viable.

But The House Bunny is ultimately a very entertaining, feel good movie. I recommend it for an enjoyable bit of escapist fluff, and a chance to see Anna Faris before she really hits it big.

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