To Do List, The (United States, 2013)July 25, 2013
The To Do List grafts the raunchiness of today's R-rated comedic fare onto the structure of an '80s sex romp. The film feels a little like what might happen if the producers of films like Bridesmaids found a lost John Hughes script and adapted it for 2013 audiences. The framework is oh-so-familiar: a valedictorian with a strict upbringing decides that going to college as a virgin isn't an option. The goal for the summer: lose that unwanted virginity by hooking up with a hottie while conveniently ignoring the "true love" who waits in the wings. It's Some Kind of Wonderful with lots of profanity and graphic sex talk. Oh, and the valedictorian is female and the objectified repository of her lust is male.
The directorial debut of "Funny or Die Presents…" contributor Maggie Carey is a rambling, episodic excursion through the sex-drenched life of a teenager who decides that she wants to experience pretty much everything carnal to go along with her 1600 SAT. So Brandy Klark (Aubrey Plaza) does what any self-respecting nerd would do: she makes a list. On it are things like "give a hand job", "give a blow job", "masturbate", "cunnilingus", "finger banging", and (of course) "intercourse." Since she doesn't want to jump straight to the main course with red meat Rusty Waters (Scott Porter), she samples the appetizers first. Most of them involve her ex-lab buddy and best male pal, Cameron (Johnny Simmons). Cameron, of course, is heads-over-heels for Brandy and mistakenly believes that being jerked off by her in a movie theater means something. Silly boy.
The To Do List is uneven but its consistent comedic quotient gets it through some rough patches. For the most part, the characters are likeable and, although the situations are familiar, they're executed with panache. Plus, there's a level of uniqueness that comes from all the role-reversals. We're used to seeing this story from the male point-of-view. This isn't the first time it has been done with a girl in the lead but it's uncommon enough to make The To Do List seem fresher and breezier than might be the case with a guy in the top spot.
The movie is pleasingly vulgar and, although there's no nudity, the whole thing is about sex. The best humor comes during the sex scenes as the hard-working Brandy checks item after item on her list. The less successful moments take place at the pool where she works as a lifeguard. These are sometimes flat and sometimes gross, and SNL veteran Bill Hader, who plays the pool manager Willy, is consistently annoying. Part of the problem is the way in which the character is written but a bigger part is the broad way Hader plays him, constantly mugging for the camera and attempting impersonations that aren't the least bit funny.
The To Do List has the usual stock characters: the best friends (Alia Shawkat, Sarah Steele), the bitchy older sister (Rachel Bilson), the supportive mother (Connie Britton), and the clueless father (Clark Gregg). While all of these could have been cardboard stereotypes, the actors invest each with little bits and pieces of uniqueness and Carey gives everyone at least one great line. (Gregg gets the best; it comes at the very end.) The performance of Aubrey Plaza anchors the film. Her sassy, vibrant personality shines through as Brandy, making her every bit as appealing as, say, Molly Ringwald's Samantha or Andie or Linday Lohan's Cady. There's also an in-joke here, with Carey giving a wink-wink-nod-nod to the '80s practice of casting 20-somethings to play high school students. Plaza will turn 30 in 2014. It's not quite Stockard Channing in Grease, but it's not too far off.
The To Do List fits into the category of "easily digestible." Its familiar trajectory means it doesn't challenge audiences, but there's enough laugh-generating material to make the experience consistently amiable and Plaza's performance adds a dose of effervescence. Although the movie doesn't steer clear of the clichéd ending, it has the courage of its convictions to follow-through where the list's climax is concerned… something that probably wouldn't have happened in the '80s. There's nothing sweet or innocent about this particular teen comedy but the crudeness results in smiles and laughter, not grimaces, and that makes all the difference.
To Do List, The (United States, 2013)
Cast: Aubrey Plaza, Connie Britton, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Rachel Bilson, Scott Porter, Sarah Steele, Alia Shawkat, Bill Hader, Johnny Simmons, Clark Gregg
Screenplay: Maggie Carey
Cinematography: Doug Emmett
Music: Raney Shockne
U.S. Distributor: CBS Films