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The retro charm of 'Playboy'

The retro charm of ‘Playboy’ — Diablo Cody on why she dug ”The House Bunny”

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The House Bunny — a film about a displaced, overripe Playboy Bunny — is doing brisk box office, and I’m stoked. I’m rooting for this movie for several reasons: First of all, the script was penned by two ladies (Kirsten ”Kiwi” Smith and Karen McCullah Lutz), a rare enough occurrence in boy-crazy Hollywood. Secondly, I love that the poster for The House Bunny is a simple, arresting head shot of a saucer-eyed Anna Faris. Guys like Steve Carell and Ben Stiller have struck similar poses on movie posters, but this is the first time in recent memory that a woman has literally been the face of a comedy. Thirdly (and chiefly), I’m excited about this movie because, well, I’m obsessed with anything related to Hugh Hefner’s soft-focus empire. I will gladly confess: I am a Playboy-phile.

I peeked at Playboy for the first time when I was 10 years old. That particular issue featured Kimberley Conrad, a lanky Southern blonde who would become Hefner’s wife later that year. I remember scanning Conrad’s pictorial and thinking it seemed counterintuitive to wear a huge, floppy sun hat while topless. And yet, the irrational world housed between those glossy pages was fascinating to me. I knew real women didn’t look or dress like that — who hangs around the house wearing a belt without pants? — but the Playboy aesthetic was just so darned friendly. It was a galaxy of smiling babysitters, a cavalcade of Rolodex-thumbing ’80s secretaries. All the women in the magazine were so tan and happy and fluffy-haired. Even the Playmates’ ”data sheets” were filled out in bubbly, childish handwriting that looked just like my own. (Grown women who dotted their i‘s with daisies? Cool!)

I grew up, obviously, but Playboy stayed young. Tune in to any episode of The Girls Next Door (E!’s überaddictive reality show about Hef’s three girlfriends) and you’ll see adult females frolicking with puppies, playing dress-up in elaborate costumes, and sledding on manufactured snow in their SoCal backyard. In case you’ve made the grave mistake of skipping this show, here’s a primer: Holly, Hef’s main squeeze, loves Marie Antoinette, Chihuahuas, and striped tube socks. Bridget, the elder stateswoman at 34, is really into Halloween. Kendra, the youngest, is a giggling, softball-lobbing tomboy who makes casual nudity seem more mischievous than titillating. The three women live with Hef at the Playboy Mansion, a glorious Gothic time capsule with its own arcade, movie theater, and mini-zoo. They follow a curfew, wear pigtails, and throw birthday parties for their dogs. This is transgressive television, people. This is Grey Gardens with booty shorts.

One might argue that all this girlish playacting is offensive. I’d argue that since the fantasy is self-imposed (no one is forcing these girls to prance around in feathers and body paint), it reads more like an eccentric lifestyle decision. In a pop cult moment that fetishizes and celebrates childlike men, why can’t a trio of grown women throw a never-ending puppy party? Besides, ladies are holding it down behind the scenes at Playboy: Christie Hefner is the chairman and CEO of Playboy Enterprises, and anyone who watches TGND knows that Mary, Hef’s take-no-s— assistant, is the real Bunny wrangler. Compared with today’s frequently hateful porn culture, Playboy seems harmless, whimsical, even romantic. I think maybe that’s what Hefner always intended.

It’s worth noting that Hef and his girls are most certainly in on the joke. They appear as themselves in The House Bunny, which parodies the Menudo-like eviction of older girlfriends from the Mansion. Even though Faris plays Bunny ”Shelley Darlington” as a wide-eyed naïf she’s likable and, yes, even smart in an Elle Woods kind of way. (Smith and Lutz also wrote Legally Blonde, which makes them the Coen brothers of the lavaliere set.) In 2008, the Playboy lifestyle might seem a little silly, but it’s not without retro charm.

A few months ago, I had the pleasure of actually visiting the Playboy Mansion. I saw the peacocks, fed grapes to the monkeys, and even braved the fabled Grotto. After seeing the estate, I understood why anyone would be reluctant to leave. (I even briefly wondered if Hef would consider dating a brunet know-it-all, then came to my senses.) I’m not about to start dotting my i‘s with daisies again, but I did feel rather girlish. All work and no Playboy makes for a dull zeitgeist, no?

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