While We’re On the Subject of Disabilities

Posted on August 26, 2008 at 8:00 am

The disability advocates who are picketing “Tropic Thunder” should take a look at “The House Bunny.” It is a much more worthwhile target for their complaints. In that movie, the title character becomes the house mother for a sorority of dorks and losers. She transforms them all with a little mascara, some skimpy clothes, and some tips on how to talk to boys. A few free drinks and an “Aztec virgin sacrifice” party blow-out later, and they’re the most popular girls on campus. One of characters is a young woman wearing a brace for scoliosis, played by Rumer Willis, daughter of Bruce Willis and Demi Moore (far right in the photo).house bunny.jpg The movie also includes a character whose only characteristic is being very short, another defining condition played only for laughs. You can see only a portion of her arm in this publicity photo, which tells you everything you need to know about the role she plays in the movie.
As usual with a disabled character like the girl in the brace, the disability is her only characteristic and we never learn anything else about her. SPOILER ALERT: Incredibly, the plot resolution for this character is that the brace simply falls off of her as she runs (like “Forrest Gump”), with a little help from the former bunny. It turns out she has not needed the brace for four years but kept it on because she was shy. Instead of taking the opportunity to show us a disabled character who is comfortable with her disability and is able to have a full life of studies and friends, the movie implies that no one can be popular and confident with a back brace.

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The House Bunny

Posted on August 21, 2008 at 6:00 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for sex-related humor, partial nudity and brief strong language.
Profanity: Crude and strong language including f-word, insults, and references to body parts and functions
Alcohol/ Drugs: A lot of party drinking
Violence/ Scariness: Comic slapstick violence
Diversity Issues: It is supposed to be empowering to dress in skimpy clothes and pretend to be dumb
Date Released to Theaters: August 23, 2008

Being a good sport is part of what makes Anna Faris such a gifted comic actress. She has never had any hesitation about doing whatever it takes to be funny, no matter how ridiculous, embarrassing, or dangerous. Through the “Scary Movie” series she allowed herself to be subject to all kinds of movie torture and humiliation but always maintained an open-hearted good humor that kept us laughing and kept us rooting for her. In “The House Bunny,” the screenplay inflicts a little more injury on Faris than it intends to by committing the very sins it half-heartedly attempts to parody. But even when the movie ignores her comic timing to focus on her lovely face and figure, Faris is an engaging performer.

She plays Shelley, a lonely girl who grew up in an orphanage and finally found the family she wanted when she became a Bunny and moved into the Playboy Mansion. It was a paradise of parties and girlfriends. But then she turned 27 — “That’s 59 in bunny years,” the bartender advises her, and is booted out. The closest thing she can find to the Playboy Mansion is a sorority house, and she is hired in desperation by a sorority on the brink of being shut down for failure to attract new members because its members are all socially inept. Cue the makeover montage.

Faris is every bit as adorable as the Goldie Hawn-ish role requires and there are funny moments that don’t even appear in the trailer. Colin Hanks looks appropriately disconcerted as the nursing home manager who likes Shelley but is not sure how to respond when she overdoes her concept of what makes her appealing and Emma Stone (“Superbad”) and Kat Dennings (“40 Year Old Virgin”) have some success in overcoming the one-dimensionality of their characters, especially in comparison to the tone-deaf line readings in the cameos from Hef and the bunnies. One of the sorority girls tries to talk with her mouth full and makes the mistake of letting boys know that she is smart! One has facial piercings and attitude! How hilarious! And guess what! Under those shlumpadinka clothes, they are all long-legged hotties!

There’s a moment when the girls realize that their success has gone to their heads and they must be reminded — after dishing on the looks of candidates — that it is what is inside that counts. But the message is undercut by the constant reiteration of the more important message that being a virgin is an embarrassment, you should never let a boy know that you know more than he does, and what matters is being really hot and really popular. There is no indication that anyone of these “students” has any interest in school or work, any curiosity, any ambition other than getting the most cute boys to come to their parties. No one is expecting a movie like “The House Bunny” to be profound, but it is fair to expect some integrity and consistency. The slight message about the importance of what is inside is lost amid the coarse humor and lingering, loving footage of Faris’ smooth belly and micro-miniskirts. Faris as co-producer should know better and Faris as performer should recognize — as Shelly does — that sometimes doing what is right is more important than being a good sport.

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