Movies about sweet but scatterbrained blonde knockouts have been a staple since time immemorial; leaving aside the silent era, you need only think of Jean Harlow and Marilyn Monroe, not to mention “Born Yesterday” or “Legally Blonde.” This is one of the lesser contributions to the genre.
“The Home Bunny” is a comedy about a group of geeky sorority sisters who hire Shelley Darlingson (Anna Faris) as their new housemother to help them save their home from the mean rivals who are threatening to close it down because they can’t attract any new pledges. She’s a voluptuous but dim Playboy Bunny who’s lived virtually all her life in Hugh Hefner’s mansion but has been turned out due to the machinations of catty Cassandra (Monet Mazur). Wouldn’t you know it, she helps the geeks, but in the process learns from them too. They all end up with the important lesson that everything will turn out well if only you’re true to yourself, though the girls wind up a lot less nerdy in the process—and Shelley finds a boyfriend in Oliver (Colin Hanks), the mild-mannered administrator of a nursing home.
The one thing you can say about this movie is that it certainly takes that message to heart. True to itself as a product of Adam Sandler’s Happy Madison company, it’s as airheaded as its ditzy heroine. But it has a goofily good-natured quality that sets it above the raunchy slob-guy farces that usually emanate from that source, even if it’s a paint-by-numbers affair that has some very strange ideas about what a woman should aspire to in the modern age–especially since it was written by two females–and in the end tries to tie things up in a way that will allow it to be all things to all people. (It’s also a weird counterpart to last year’s “Sydney White” in many respects, though the girl in that instance was hardly a bombshell and a fraternity of geeks was involved.)
The picture is bookended by animated sequences in which orphan Shelley describes, in fairy-tale princess style, how she was rescued from her solitary childhood and given a perfect Bunny existence. Unfortunately, her joy in living with Heffner and a gaggle of equally lovely gals in his palatial abode (a curiously benign characterization of a wizened old man’s harem) is abruptly ended after her twenty-seventh birthday when, while still dreaming of being the November centerfold, she’s tossed out of the house onto the street. (Later, it’s revealed that the lovable Heff—whose attitude toward his girls is apparently strictly platonic—knew nothing of this.) Homeless, she winds up on a college campus where, after being dissed by the snooty sorority headed by horrible Ashley (Sarah Wright) and equally horrible house mother Mrs. Hagstrom (Beverly D’Angelo), she finds herself accepted by the pathetic Zetas, whose mere seven members—headed by brainy Natalie (Emma Stone)—are a collection of misfits whose inability to attract new pledges has forced Dean Simmons (Christopher McDonald), pressured by Ashley and Hagstrom, to close down the chapter.
The trajectory of the script, from the same duo who wrote “Legally Blonde,” is odd in the age of “Wicked.” Shelley makes the Zetas popular by sexing up their appearance—the makeover is reminiscent of the one Molly Ringwald gave Ally Sheedy at the close of “The Breakfast Club,” though obviously on a much larger scale—and teaching them to part-ee (though it eventually emerges she may have gone too far). Meanwhile, she actually takes a dose of book learning in an attempt to build a relationship with Oliver, whom she meets—“cute,” of course—on the street. There’s the obligatory crisis in the last act—tripled here—when the sorority’s rivals pull a dirty trick to sabotage the Zetas’ pledge drive, the Zetas are confronted by the possibility that they’ve become mean girls themselves, and Shelley’s invited back to the mansion, and centerfold stardom. But rest assured, all turns out well as our heroine shows her pluck in a big final speech.
“Bunny” is kept aloft as much as it is by Faris’ innate charm; even if the material the script gives her is hardly top-flight (a bit involving the strange way she remembers people’s names, for example, is funny once, but has paled by its tenth reappearance), she’s adept at selling it. Unfortunately, she gets little help from the supporting cast. Hanks is utterly wasted, and Stone overplays the nerdy stuff (it doesn’t help that Colby, the guy she has eyes for played by Tyson Ritter, is such a drip). The other sorority sisters are all caricatures, some pretty offensive (Kat Dennings is the man-hating pierced one, Dana Goodman the surly giant, Katharine McPhee the inexplicably pregnant girl, etc.) and so of course are the characters played by Wright, D’Angelo and McDonald. Heffner looks as though he could use a shot of Viagra, though he does have one good moment when we see him, disconsolate over Shelley’s absence, spooning ice cream out of pint containers the way so many single gals do in movies about their romantic problems.
The tech credits are better than usual for this sort of thing, with a nice production design by Missy Stewart and bright cinematography by Shelly Johnson. (It’s notable that many of the top crew members are female.) And though the pace isn’t exactly electric, Fred Wolf’s direction is a huge advance on his slipshod work on the atrocious “Strange Wilderness.” But this on-and-off comedy is unlikely to do for Faris, as sprightly as she is, what “Born Yesterday,” for instance, did for Holliday, or “The Seven Year Itch” for Monroe. For the record, the original title of the picture was “I Know What Boys Like,” which is the old song that McPhee sings during the final credits.