Not every young actress can carry an entire movie on her own shoulders, and even fewer can pull it off when the story is so forumlaic. Happily for this silly but endearing comedy about a cast-off Playboy Bunny who finds herself playing house mother to a dying sorority sisters, Anna Faris is that rare commodity. She's a true star.
Abandoned on the steps of an orphanage as a baby and raised in virtual isolation after all the other kids were adopted, Shelley Darlingson (Faris) never learned the true meaning of the words "family" or "home" until she developed into a leggy blonde and was adopted by Hugh Hefner. Installed in the lavish Playboy Mansion with her pet cat Pooter and all the surgically enhanced sisters she could ever want, Shelley wakes on the morning after her lavish 27th birthday bash to find a personal letter from Hef on her breakfast tray. Far from her birthday wish-come-true -- Shelley desperately wants to appear as Playboy's Miss November -- the note wishes her well and asks that she have her belongings packed and out the door with two hours. After all, as Marvin (Owen Benjamin), the Mansion's resident mixologist points out, 27 is, like, 59 in Bunny years and that's just too darn old. Distraught, this Girl Next Door soon finds herself out-of-doors and sleeping in her battered station wagon -- until she claps eyes on a lovely house that looks just like a mini-Mansion. It's not: It's home to the snooty sorority Phi Iota Mu, and when dumb Bunny Shelley -- who doesn't know Greek Life from, well, Greek -- asks if she can move in she's shown the door with ice-cold hauteur. So Shelley goes across the street and knocks on the door of Zeta Alpha Zeta, a rundown house that has seen better days. The young women of Zeta -- all seven of them (including Kat Dennings, Rumer Willis, Dana Goodman and Katherine McPhee) -- are a sorry lot: They're either too socially awkward or politically aware to really play the sorority game and they're about to lose their charter unless they sign 30 new pledges during the coming rush week. Natalie (Emma Stone) is determined to save Zeta house, and when she realizes just what a boy-magnet like Shelley can do for them -- Shelley attracts boys who then attract other girls who then pledge Zeta -- she agrees to let her become Zeta's new house mother. And Shelley is determined to bring all her Bunny skills into play to help her new sisters battle the mean girls of Phi Iota Mu lead by cruel Ashley (Sarah Wright), and gives these college students a crash course in makeup, makeovers and the mating rituals of the male of the species. But when it comes to her own love life -- in this case, Oliver (Colin Hanks), the sweet natured manager of a nearby old-folks home -- Shelley realizes she has a lot to learn herself.
There a number of few truly funny, eminently quotable lines, but the plot really isn't anything you haven't seen before: It's kinda CLUELESS, sorta LEGALLY BLONDE and awfully similar to SYDNEY WHITE. But Faris saves the day, and it isn't the first time: Over her slowly building career managed to make the diminishing returns of the SCARY MOVIE franchise actually worth watching and turned Gregg Araki's potentially one-note stoner comedy SMILEY FACE into one of the best entries in an otherwise pretty sorry genre. Stone (SUPERBAD, THE ROCKER) is well on her way to becoming a star in her own right, but this is Faris's film. She's positively incandescent, lighting up a movie that would be pretty dim without her. leave a comment --Ken Fox