Lasciate ogne speranza, voi chi’intrate. How did it come to this? At the height of his power in Hollywood in 1999, Adam Sandler founded his own production company as a way to continue making the movies he enjoys. Over the years his films have slowly morphed into a pariah on the landscape of big budget studio comedies, becoming thinly veiled excuses for lavish vacations. But do they truly represent the nadir in the career of one of comedy’s once-brightest stars? Are there any hidden or underrated gems? Is there such a thing as too few fart jokes? Will I retain any sense of sanity by the end of this? Join me and find out, as we venture to the Happy Valley.
You wouldn’t expect such a striking parallel between the films of Happy Madison and the Marvel Cinematic Universe at first glance. Both franchises have raked in billions of dollars at the global box office and have, in their own way, set the standards for their respective genres. Both franchises are aggressively male-dominated. And in the universe’s cruelest twist of fate, both franchises made their 21st film their first female-centric story. For Marvel, it was Captain Marvel in 2019, and for Happy Madison, it was The House Bunny in 2008.
As one of the most enjoyable parts of The Hot Chick, Anna Faris returns for one of her first starring roles and brings all of the charm and charisma for which she’s best known. And it should come as no surprise that Faris is great in the role; as a producer on the film, the actress clearly went to great lengths to make the character her own original creation. Adam Sandler got in shape for The Longest Yard and You Don’t Mess With the Zohan, but those are the only roles in this series so far where the main actor exhibited any sort of preparation. Faris worked out for months before production, received lip injections and performed her own nude scene (forgoing a body double), just for an extra layer of verisimilitude as a Playboy model.
After spending too many years middling away in small roles and carrying the Scary Movie franchise, Faris uses her otherworldly gifts for line delivery to great effect here. Her “monster voice,” which she utilizes when trying to memorize a name, never fails to elicit a laugh from me, no matter how many times I’ve seen the film. Faris’s willingness to sacrifice her ego for the sake of a joke is one of her greatest assets, and many of the film’s jokes simply wouldn’t land in the hands of a lesser actress; her performance alone makes the film watchable.
Faris is surrounded by an all-star cast, including (future Oscar winner) Emma Stone, Kat Dennings, Katharine McPhee, Rumer Willis and Colin Hanks. While none of the characters is exactly three-dimensional, they’re still just as willing to go all in for the jokes. That’s mostly because the plot leaves little room for character development, and when it does, it’s thinly drawn and predictable. Take the fraternity shenanigans of National Lampoon’s Animal House or Revenge of the Nerds — and dial them down considerably to fit into a PG-13 rating — and combine them with the glow-up fantasies of My Fair Lady or She’s All That, and you have the elevator pitch of The House Bunny. Faris does her best to elevate the material but there’s only so much she can do, like a streaker trying to liven up a dying party.
Is there a version of The House Bunny that exceeds expectations? As much as I’d hope to say yes, it’s hard to single out an element or two that could alter its trajectory. Faris and Hanks have decent chemistry together, but their entire arc feels like a studio note; her character’s growth would be more satisfying if it came from the same sorority girls that she’s trying to reform. I realize the film’s premise doesn’t lend itself to too many wacky hijinks like a prank war or Old School-style shenanigans, but it would have been nice to see the film get surreal and have a little fun.
I don’t know if, or when, we’ll see another female-led Happy Madison film, much less one with a female director. Women have a much greater foothold in comedy now than they did in 2008, so the chances of another House Bunny are somewhat greater even if Sandler and his cronies continue to dominate the HM slate. Now that Faris is free from her stint on a network sitcom, I can only hope she’s given more starring opportunities worthy of her talents. Unfortunately, those opportunities likely won’t be coming from the Happy Madison production company.
- “I’m Getting Paid How Much?!” Inexplicable Cameo Award: A ton of Sandler-adjacent buddies show up here, including Sean Salisbury and Dan Patrick, plus Hugh Hefner and his girlfriends featured in the reality show The Girls Next Door. My first choice was former USC quarterback Matt Leinart, but then I noticed Shaq’s appearance, where he simply lifts Faris up and retreats into the background without ever uttering a word.
- Just Go With It: The Happy Madison Promise. Impassioned. Speech. During. A. Climactic. Meeting.
- Fart Joke Counter: None, which really helped to ground the film in reality because girls don’t fart.
- The Walkout Test: Fail. Playboy is the work of the devil!
- NEXT TIME: Sandler cashes in with the House of Mouse in the kid-friendly Bedtime Stories.