in Movies

“The To Do List” Review

Photo: 3 Arts Entertainment

It’s 1993 and valedictorian Brandy Klark (Aubrey Plaza) wants to become as sexually experienced as possible before heading off to university.
Mind you, this is the era of jean-skirts (aka skorts) and cassette players – before you had the luxury of Google searching the definition of “rim job” instead of asking your local librarian.

Maggie Carey, who’s married to Saturday Night Live‘s Bill Hader, wrote and directed the film. The To Do List also stars Rachel Bilson as Brandy’s older, more sexually experienced sister Amber, Connie Britton and Clark Gregg as Brandy’s oddball parents, and Alia Shawkat and Sarah Steele as Brandy’s two best friends Fiona and Wendy. There’s also a sideplot (sort of) involving Bill Hader as the manager of the local pool where Brandy works for the summer as a lifeguard. SNL alum Andy Samberg also makes a short appearance.

After Fiona and Wendy take Brandy to her first, real teen party and Brandy lays eyes on the hunky, guitar-playing Rusty Waters (Scott Porter), Brandy decides it’s high time for her sexual awakening. As the title of the movie suggests, Brandy makes a to-do list and uses Cameron (Johnny Simmons), a boy with a long-held, secret crush on her, and a few others to help her check off each item she’s written down.

The To Do List takes on the topic of sex and sexual awakenings from a woman’s perspective, which is rather refreshing for a sex comedy. However, the script could have probably used another re-write. The jokes are underwhelming and downright disgusting (there’s a scene, which didn’t need to exist, where Plaza’s character eats a mouthful of poop) and – although the movie attempts to make them more meaningful than they actually are – the relationships are underdeveloped. All in all, The To Do List could have probably used a little more heart, since the jokes don’t make up for the lack of depth in the script and performances.

The role of Brandy Klark would have been best fulfilled by a different actress, as well. Plaza does quite well as April Ludgate in Parks and Recreation, although – understandly – her sardonic, deadpan persona isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. I particularly enjoyed her in Safety Not Guaranteed, and even found her endearing, which isn’t often the case with Plaza’s roles. The problem in The To Do List is that Plaza doesn’t have a lot of range. While she’s convincing as a sexually inexperienced virgin who takes a very clinical approach to learning everything she can about sex, she simply isn’t likable or emotionally layered.

Despite its flaws, The To Do List wins you over – somewhat – towards the end with its honest, slapstick approach to sex. But it doesn’t leave much of an impression.

two and a half stars

  • Starring: Aubrey Plaza, Johnny Simmons, Bill Hader, Alia Shawkat, Sarah Steele, Scott Porter, Rachel Bilson
  • Directed by: Maggie Carey
  • Running Time: 104 minutes
  • Genre: Comedy

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