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The House Bunny (2008) -vs- Legally Blonde (2001)

The House Bunny -vs- Legally Blonde

Sherry CobenThe Smackdown

Are you the kind of person who demands meaning in your movies?  Here are two films that each serve up a whopper of a morality tale: Not just any blonde can successfully take on the world of higher education, but experience in a Playboy bunny costume sure helps.

SoCal sorority girl Elle “Dumb Like A Fox” Woods dons her bunny ears at a party and goes on to conquer Harvard Law.  Party girl and aspiring centerfold Shelly “Dumb Like A Sexy Forrest Gump” Darlingson leaves her bunny ears at the Playboy mansion and rescues a failing sorority filled with losers. Gee. Golly. Gosh. Get out the peroxide, grab your library card, and start up the montage music. This one’s gonna get (a lot less) ugly.

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The Challenger

So there are movies you go to expecting quite a lot. And there are movies you go to expecting precious little.  And then there’s The House Bunny.  Written by the same people who simultaneously set back feminism and catapulted the very winning Reese Witherspoon to indisputable stardom with Legally Blonde, The House Bunny promises to set back not only feminism and the usually charming Anna Faris, but to lower your IQ, GPA, and quite possibly your immune system.

In the screenwriters’ hamhanded effort to make their aspiring centerfold dimwit sympathetic, they manage to turn Family Values on its deserving and pointy little head. Little Orphan Shelly never gets adopted and instead finds her first surrogate family in the Playboy Mansion and her second family as house mother to a doomed sorority at a college where no one studies or goes to class. You know the college. Movie U where impossibly attractive stereotypes drink,  party, go Greek, and flirt, but they learn nothing until the pretentious life lesson speech usually delivered in the third act by the protagonist. Oh. That college.

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The Defending Champion

In the super successful comedy Legally Blonde, Elle Woods follows her ex-boyfriend to Harvard Law in hopes of winning him back. Along the way, she actually becomes a lawyer and valedictorian. Reese Witherspoon’s Elle is no dumb blonde, surprising even herself with the magnitude of her success and earning the respect of her harshest critics and the friendship of her detractors. Elle betters herself in the pursuit of love and comes to realize that her improved self deserves far better. Elle has become a worthy heroine for a generation of little girls who may initially be attracted by her pink wardrobe and high style but hopefully get the message of self-reliance and higher education. A spoonful of sugar…

The Scorecard

Some movies are just too dumb to take seriously. But not for me. While this may be an exercise in shooting paralyzed trout-pout fish in a teensy weensy barrel with a really big gun, I take my anti-feminist messages very seriously indeed, particularly when they’re coated in soft porn cotton candy pink and feature and target impressionable young women and girls. These are dangerous times. To paraphrase Rough Rider Teddy, Speak loudly and wield a poisonous pen.

The heroine of Legally Blonde is just that. A true heroine. The message of the film is powerful and worthwhile. Wrapped up in bubblegum pink, its power is deceptive and surprising. ‘Nuff said.

The heroine of The House Bunny is more problematic, and so are the girls in her thrall.

House Bunny’s ZAZ sorority is filled with a veritable bomber crew of otherwise undifferentiated distaff nerd stereotypes. While “nerds” are usually intelligent in at least one area, these nerds know nothing. They have no gifts, no individuated qualities whatsoever. None. Let me try and come up with an accurate roster for you. It’s been twenty-four hours since I left the theater, and they’re vanishing in a mist along with the seven dwarfs and Santa’s reindeer. The humongous and lumbering she-man. The pregnant beauty with the major league pipes. The vertically challenged slightly overweight mute. The pierced and angry lesbian-ese punk. The closet-dwelling pathologically shy British black chick. (Huh?) The wool-toque-and-body- brace-wearing stunner. And the awkward redheaded virgin with (you guessed it) glasses. (Seriously. Glasses? Is that still movie shorthand for ugly, smart, and unpopular? Seriously? Am I the only person who thinks it might be high time to change that stereotype just a little? ) The social misfits that make up Zeta Alpha Zeta House are the kind of “ugly losers” that a brief three-minute makeover montage turns to unrecognizably slutty supermodels. When gorgeous American Idol runner-up Katharine McPhee plays a loser, you know exactly how far you’ve strayed from our humble planet.

The House Bunny has plot holes wide enough to drive a cute yellow VW bug through, but while its gooey marshmallow heart means to be in the right place, its head is squarely planted up its erythromycin-allergic (don’t ask) itchy asscheeks. There’s a message there somewhere, but it’s a muddled mess of a message indeed:

The eyes are the nipples of the face? There. I’ve ruined the best line in the movie for you. Bedazzle your body brace and leave it curbside for scrap metal? Dumb is the new smart? Dress like a skanky ho to win that guy you have your eye on? All that matters is what you look like? What you look like doesn’t matter? Seriously? Is that it? Make up your addled mind already. You can’t have your stripper pop out of the cake and eat her too.

Tacking the message that looks don’t matter on the cottontail end of The House Bunny is tantamount to adding the DARE slogan to the end of a Harold and Kumar movie.

One recurring thought did tickle the hell out of me as I sat with my daughter (recent Bennington College graduate) in our neighborhood hellplex waiting for the movie to reach its merciful end. Colin Hanks and Rumer Willis appear prominently (if not impressively, at least not embarrassingly) in the film. Unless Tom Hanks, Demi Moore, Ashton Kutcher and Bruce Willis are not the caring and supportive parents the tabloids have led me to believe they are, they all attended screenings and had to come up with terrific and encouraging things to say to their progeny afterwards. Of course, they had plenty of practice hearing such damning faint praise from friends, family and colleagues along their own respective career rollercoaster rides — Bonfire of the Vanities and Striptease come to mind. They come to these occasions uniquely prepared.

The Decision

Legally Blonde’s Elle Woods may be a Barbie doll. But the girls of Zeta Alpha Zeta are transformed into Bratz dolls. The difference may seem subtle to those less accustomed to the tragic de-evolution evident in Toys R Us aisles over the past few decades of anti-feminist backlash. You see, Barbies, even with their impossibly perky breasts and inhumanly perfect proportions, are still  aspirational toys. Barbie is not just a skank and a ho. Over five decades of marketing success, she’s  been a dentist, an astronaut, a teacher, a sister, a girlfriend, a veterinarian, a president. Barbie hails from all nations in every shade and represents every historic time period.

Bratz dolls are simply scary narcissists with giant lips and eyes, hair extensions, and a passion for fashion.

I worry about the world. I really do.

Mommas, don’t let your babies grow up to be Bratz dolls. Let them watch Legally Blonde instead.

About Sherry Coben 77 Articles
A comedy writer who created the 1980s hit show Kate & Allie, Sherry Coben — tired of malingering in development hell — has enjoyed coaching a high school ComedySportz team in SoCal, making a no-budget, high-ambition webisode series, and biting the hand that feeds her.

4 Comments on The House Bunny (2008) -vs- Legally Blonde (2001)

  1. A terrific review — as Bryce commented: “Barbie vs. Bratz — Now THAT’S a Smackdown!” LEGALLY BLONDE is the better film for a variety of reasons — but Barbie scares the Hell out of me. When I see her I can’t help but think she’s the prototype for some pasty-faced, thin-lipped Republican’s trophy wife…

  2. I know this was written a couple years ago and all, but I don’t see how you can call yourself a “feminist” and still use demeaning terms like “slutty”, “skank” and “ho”. Yes, The House Bunny is a far cry from positive affirmation and aspiration to impressionable teenage girls, but if that girl wants to grow up and look like a Bratz doll, that’s on her. Making oneself over a certain way does not make one a skank or a slut; doesn’t Elle prove that in Legally Blonde?

    I hope your feminism has evolved since ’08.

  3. Barbie was also a doctor!

  4. Barbie versus Bratz. Now THAT’S a Smackdown! Funny and important stuff. Great!

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