I love a good sex comedy. I love Aubrey Plaza even more. The To Do List is a movie I had circled on my calendar for a while now. "Sigh...", was my reaction after watching it. Here's why...
After high-school graduation, class valedictorian Brandy Klark (Aubrey Plaza) prepares for college. Her two best friends take her to a party where she gets drunk and almost has sex with a college guy named Rusty Waters (Scott Porter). Brandy realizes her lack of sexual experience hurt her chances of closing the deal, so like all super smart, highly organized people she makes of list of sexual things she plans on accomplishing over the summer, with the end goal of losing her virginity to Rusty.
She takes a summer job as a lifeguard at a community pool, where Rusty happens to work, as well a bunch of goofballs like her socially awkward friend Cameron (Johnny Simmons), who's clearly in love with her; Derrick (Donald Glover), and her boss Willy (Bill Hader). They are all silly and weird. Like, Willy drinks a lot and can't swim even though he manages a pool. Hilarious and ironic, right?
The To Do List is set in Boise, Idaho in 1993. This allows the use of 90's references and music. Some may appreciate that they don't beat you over the head with the 90's, like how Adam Sandler does with the 80's in many of his films. Many of the references are subtle, and I wondered why they even bothered setting it in the 90's, and then it dawned on me: NO INTERNET! It's a lazy way to explain away why someone wouldn't be aware of commonly used sexual terms. What excuse would an 18-year-old in 2013 have for not knowing what some of them meant, especially if they were genuinely interested in learning? That's why urban dictionary exists. They even went as far as to have a lame montage where Brandy actually tries to look up 'the shocker' in a dictionary, ponders that 'teabagging' must be a English thing, or that 'motorboating' should be easy to accomplish as she knows someone with a boat. I can understand someone being naive, but this is bordering on extreme stupidity. Plus, a lot of the things mentioned in the film were definitely not part of the vernacular back in 1993. I graduated high school in 1991, and had frequent access to actual porn, and didn't hear many of these expressions back then. Trust me, if teabagging was a thing back when I was in high school, it would have been a frequent occurrence at drunk parties or part of jock hazing. Granted Boise is a little more conservative than the Bay Area, but even if Brandy wasn't aware from her own lack of experience, her sexually active friends (Alia Shawkat and Sarah Steele) should have clued her in at some point. I also thought it was a little odd that a valedictorian would not be aware of what foreskin is, unless Boise schools don't have sex education.
Part of me had trouble accepting the premise in the first place. It seems odd to me that anyone would think this a good or safe idea, let alone someone that clearly idolized Hillary Clinton. I wonder if writer/director Maggie Carey thought she was making an empowering story about a young girl taking charge of her sex life, but a lot of what happens here is actually irresponsible. For instance, nobody, including her best friends and own mother, tell her it's okay to be a virgin, or that there's nothing wrong with waiting or not rushing into sex if she's not ready. Her older sister Amber (Rachel Bilson) gives her shit for being a virgin in front of her family. I would think her parents would be relieved to know this, especially considering her older sister's behavior. Instead, there are lots of awkward sex conversations between Brandy and her mother (Connie Britton) where Amber asks them to stop talking about it or her father immediately leaves the room due to him not being comfortably. There's lots of unnatural dialog throughout the film. There's another weird joke where her mother says to Brandy that if she's going to have sex, then make sure to have lube. Not protection, or birth control, but the concern is lube. The lube joke is mentioned more than once.
I think all of this irritated me more by the fact that at the end they force in a message about how for some people sex is a big deal and very emotional, but for others it's more about fun. If you haven't had it yet, it's a big deal and weights on your mind until you do. No shit. So you're really saying that, "sex means different things to different people". Well, thanks for that brilliant insight. I guess it's a good thing that this is rated R, so that younger kids won't be exposed to this.
I know sound like an angry, old dude again, but I'm just bummed out at what a mess this is. Compare this to something like The 40-Year-Old Virgin that handled someone losing their virginity in a much sweeter, and way more hilarious fashion. Most of the jokes in The To Do List are tired or just don't go anywhere. Many of the situations feel forced. For an R-rated, sex comedy I was actually surprised at how it tame it actually was. I chuckled a handful of times at best. If this movie came out 10 or 15 years ago, then some of this stuff might have been fresh, but many of the gags here have been done before. They also make several jokes about how Brandy has small boobs, and do a bit where her top falls off in the pool more than once. Nearly everyone picks on her about her chest. Have fun with your body image, ladies.
There's a Caddyshack reference that fell really flat, not just because was gross, but because only Brandy was aware of the fact it was from Caddyshack. The naive Brandy has seen Caddyshack, but none of her goofy co-workers? Remember this was set in 1993. This joke could have worked if the film had been set in the present day, where Caddyshack would be a 30 year old film, and it made sense that younger kids weren't familiar with it.
It's such shame because The To Do List has such a talented comedic cast. If you had told me that there was a late-Summer, sex comedy coming out with April Ludgate, Agent Coulson, McLovin, Young Neil, one-half of Troy and Abed, Andy Samberg, Maeby Funke, and Stefon from SNL, I would have bet on it being a homerun. Adam Pally, who's great on Happy Endings, is in maybe two scenes and then gone. Clark Gregg plays Brandy's dad, and it seems the only reason his character is in the film is to repeat that he's a judge over and over. There's no payoff to this at all. Why even mention his profession if there's no relevance to it, or no joke planned? His character also forgets who Cameron is on multiple occasions despite that he's one of Brandy's oldest friends. There's another running gag about the girls watching Beaches that I found no humor in, and there didn't seem to be any point to. Beaches came out in 1988, by the way.
I think the most disappointing thing is that I had really hoped this would be the vehicle to really propel Aubrey Plaza into more lead roles. I'm a big fan of hers and one of the legions of geeks out there that has a nerd crush on her. She even stepped out of her comfort zone a bit by not playing Brandy with her usual deadpan demeanor. I do need to mention that it took me a little out of the film to have a 29-year-old playing a recent high-school graduate, with a 31-year-old playing her slightly older sister that still lives at home. I actually thought Rachel Bilson was kind of funny though. I can forgive the age disparity a little bit, as it's always been something movies have done. However, I've praised several recent movies for casting younger actors that actually looked age-appropriate, so this seems like a step backwards in that regard.
I think a lot of what didn't work about the film could have been improved simply by changing the setting to Brandy being a senior in college and away from home. She's been buried in her school work and doesn't have a lot of friends. Realizing that her college experience is about to pass her by, she decides she wants to experience a bunch of things, like alcohol and sex, before graduating and getting out into the real world. Basing this on someone just out of high school was a real mistake.
As much as I was looking forward to The To Do List, it pains me to say that it's a real disappointment and kind of a mess. It a sex comedy that isn't sexy, creative or push any limits. It wastes a talented cast with stale, unfunny jokes that go nowhere. I really can't recommend it to anyone except for die hard fans of Aubrey Plaza. Even then, it's barely a rental. Better yet, skip this movie and rent Easy A instead, a much funnier and creative film about a girl dealing with sex in high school.
1.5 (out of 5) Death Stars