The House Bunny
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We all know that the way we're raised can have a huge impact on what we become. Stable families tend to beget stable families. Kids raised in more problematic environs ... well, statistically, they have more hurdles to overcome as adults.
So what happens when someone spends their formative years in Hugh Hefner's Playboy Mansion?
Truth be told, Shelley wasn't actually born and raised under Hef's now wrinkled wing. She spent much of her childhood in an orphanage—a plain-Jane girl too old and (so the insinuation goes) too homely to be adopted.
But then she blossomed, trading in her glasses and braces for size-D brassieres and garnering some much-wanted attention. "People seemed to like me for once," she says—so much so that she's finally "adopted" by Hefner and taken back to the Playboy pad, where she learns all sorts of new "lessons."
Her career goal? Become Playboy's next Miss November—for her, the ultimate honor.
But things quickly get a little hairy for bunny Shelley. One day Hef throws her a lavish 27th birthday party, and the next he apparently throws her out. Seems that 27 is "59 in bunny years," her friend, Marvin, tells her, and she's simply too old to hang out with the 82-year-old mogul. Suddenly, she's out on the streets, completely destitute. And the skills she learned in the Playboy Mansion have limited applications in the real world.
Where does Shelley go? To college. Not to study, but to become the "dorm mom" for the geekiest sorority on campus. Seems the girls sequestered in the Zeta house don't know a thing about being sultry. They dress modestly, go to their classes and a couple of them even wear glasses. Horrors! Why, they don't even know how to spritz their abs to make them glint in the sunlight! What are colleges teaching these days?
This is just the challenge Shelley wants and the job she needs. Soon, she'll have the Zeta girls internalizing her own special motto: "Feeling good on the inside is all about looking good on the outside."
Shelley's wrong about this last point, of course, and she (and the rest of the girls) eventually realize it—to at least a PG-13 point. Friendship and being true to yourself, they all learn, is more important than being sexy (though, I should caution, the film says there's nothing wrong with playing around on both sides of that fence).
Moreover, Shelley is a likeable, good-hearted soul. "Kindness is just love with its work boots on," she says, and she seems to mean it. She sincerely cares for her sorority girls and wants to make a positive difference (as she sees it) in their lives. Through her tutelage, all of them seem to get a new sense of self-confidence. She throws herself into the house's commitment to philanthropy (even though she can't pronounce the word) and gets them all involved with a local nursing home.
"It's so great you give nurses a place to live!" she tells the guy who runs it.
One of Shelley's first tasks as the Zeta house mother is to change the college's perception of the sorority, and to do so she gets the girls to pose for a calendar. One girl dresses up as a Halloween witch. "Are you a good witch or a bad witch?" she coos to the model.
When Shelley learns that one of the Zeta girls is a virgin, she organizes an Aztec-themed "Virgin Sacrifice" party—something she always wanted to do at the Playboy Mansion but "we could never find a virgin to sacrifice!" The actual ceremony doesn't involve any bloodshed or virginity-robbing acts. The sacrificial virgin jumps into a vat of orange Jell-O and slides into a pool of water while partygoers chant "Sacrifice! Sacrifice!"
Two words: Hugh Hefner.
Hef, the world's most famous purveyor of pornography, is everywhere in this film, both physically and (im)morally. Most of the outfits the girls wear in The House Bunny could fit into a standard coffee mug, with enough room left over for cream and sugar.
Opening scenes at the Playboy Mansion are filled with women flaunting their bodies in bikinis. And once Shelley starts instilling her own fashion sense ("it's all about skimplifying!") into her Zeta charges, the sorority house doesn't fare much better. The sisters expose legs, cleavage and bellies. (One girl is about nine months pregnant throughout the entire school year, and we see lots of her exposed rotundity.)
Shelley bares more skin than anyone, of course. At one point, we see her come out of the bathroom nude from the waist up (we see her from the back) as she tells the Zeta girls she likes to "air dry." She later drops the towel. (Again the camera sneaks peeks from the rear, and in the process includes some of her backside in the frame.)
Shelley's dress code does not go unnoticed. Many college dudes come around to pant (particularly when she's washing cars). Catty rivals deride her for being a "slut" and "whore," snidely asking whether she would be better suited to working in a brothel.
"I don't want to make soup!" she exclaims.
A couple of other things to note: Shelley spends a night in jail with a handful of prostitutes, including a transvestite. She describes nights at the Mansion, where she and other bunnies spent hours "painting each other's bodies" and baking anatomically correct cookies. She tells the girls that "eyes are the nipples of the face" and uses all manner of sexualized language to seduce the guy she likes.
One-liners suggest that Shelley's been the victim of date rape, sex-crazed celebrities and all manner of objectifications. And when a police officer asks her to take a breathalyzer test, Shelley thinks he's soliciting oral sex. Playboy bunnies spank one another. One Zeta girl pours water on her pants in a misguided effort to appear sexy. In a calendar picture, we see one of the Zeta girls pose suggestively, apparently naked from the waist down, behind a bush.
Many of the movie's jokes rely on sexual humor or imagery. One example: The Z and the E on the Zeta house have fallen off the entryway. Shelley says that, well, "at least you still have T and A."
A cat, reluctant to leave the Playboy Mansion, sinks its claws into the skin of a henchman. Shelley gets conked on the head by the large wooden letter Z when it falls off the house. She runs into tables at a restaurant. And she suffers serious burns while standing over a manhole cover, hoping to re-create Marilyn Monroe's famous billowing dress shot from The Seven Year Itch.
Female characters sometimes punch each other's breasts.
Crude or Profane Language
Shelley lets loose with one f-word. And she crudely references male anatomy when she's upset. Characters say "a--", "b--ch" and "h---" on occasion, and misuse God's name about a dozen times.
Drug and Alcohol Content
The Zeta girls go out to a club and have "six Virgin Marys and one Kamikaze." Characters and extras hold colorful drinks during the virgin sacrifice party.
Other Negative Elements
During a karaoke contest, the Zetas perform an altered version of the song "Like a Virgin" that includes the line "big bag of poop." Characters make references to farts. When one girl says she's looking for the bathroom, she makes a crude aside as to what she plans to do there. And Shelley gets out of an uncomfortable situation by lying.
Shelley tells us that, as a child, she couldn't wait to get a cold so she could take a particular brand of medicine. Seems she was allergic to the medicine—it made her itch like nobody's business—but it also gave her skin a really attractive glow, and when it did that, people would start paying attention to her. Her craving for that attention trumped everything. "I ignored all the bad side effects to feel pretty," she says.
Girls don't have to be raised in the Playboy Mansion to understand that craving and feel that pressure. Females, according to the UPI, are spending record amounts of cash to grow up quicker, stay young longer and keep their bodies cemented into an unreal and arbitrary state of perfection. They are undergoing plastic surgery procedures at younger and younger ages, and MSNBC reports that girls—sometimes pressured by their mothers—are getting bikini waxes as young as age 6.
So the movie's message that "sexy" is not "everything" is good—up to a point. And I want to give it credit—up to that point.
But we can't ignore the fact that The Bunny House takes a blatantly hypocritical rabbit trail, filled with mixed messages, to get there.
Before Shelley waltzes into their lives, the Zeta girls are seen by the rest of the college as unlovable dweebs—frumpy, geeky, insecure. When Shelley makes them over, they become gorgeous and popular. Sure, they overdo it. But once they repent, do they go back to the way they were? No. They become hybrids—part themselves, part Shelley. And frankly, had they not taken to slinking around in midriff-baring outfits in the first place, they'd never have gotten noticed, and they'd be right where they were to begin with.
The Zeta house experiment mirrors Shelley's own experience as an orphan, when she was literally unwanted until her ugly-duckling self turned into a ditzy, blond swan. Being yourself is all well and good, but it seems that'll only take you so far.
In truth, the film never completely rejects Shelley's admonition that feeling good on the inside is a matter of looking good on the outside. All of the bunnies-to-be in The Bunny House use looking better as a catalyst to feeling better. And that can be an obscenely dangerous agenda—particularly when it's accompanied, as it is here, by a truckload of sexualized images, gags and themes.
One last illustrative vignette:
Hugh Hefner, a cuddly, wrinkly teddy bear in this film, asks Shelley to move back to the Mansion. The fact that she's 27, we're told, doesn't matter anymore.
How magnanimous of him.
But it begs this question: If Shelley instead had gained 27 pounds instead of a year on the calendar, would Hef have been so willing to welcome her back?
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Anna Faris as Shelley; Colin Hanks as Oliver; Emma Stone as Natalie; Hugh Hefner as Himself
Fred Wolf ( )