The To Do List Review
by Delon Villanueva
The To Do List is the latest R-rated teen sex comedy and is the feature film debut of writer-director Maggie Carey. The movie has a comedic dream cast, featuring literally almost everyone from NBC’s Thursday night lineup, with Aubrey Plaza in the leading role. It’s really refreshing to see one of these movies not only be written and directed by a woman, but also be about a teenage girl. Ever since Superbad, we’ve received a bunch of raunchy teen comedies, but they normally focus on the minds of horny, young boys. It’s nice to get a girl’s perspective this time around, and I was looking forward to seeing a different comedic take on teenage sex. Unfortunately, The To Do List still falls into the same problems that most teen sex comedies have, where the gross-out gags and foul language come first, and strong characters come after.
Set in the summer of 1993, Aubrey Plaza plays Brandy Clark, a recent high school graduate who spent her last four years being an academic overachiever, and now plans to attend Georgetown University in the fall. Brandy seems totally content with who she is, but once her friends, Fiona and Wendy (Alia Shawkat and Sarah Steele) take her to a grad party, she gets drunk and meets the hunky Rusty Waters (Scott Porter). From there, she creates a new goal for herself: by the end of summer, she must lose her virginity to Rusty. Though to do this, she needs to be prepared. Brandy creates a to-do list of sexual acts she must experience herself to be ready to have sex with Rusty. This leads to some desperate, intimate encounters, including with fellow classmate Cameron (Johnny Simmons), who has been crushing over Brandy throughout high school. Brandy also spends her summer working as a lifeguard at the same neighborhood pool Rusty and Cameron happen to work at.
You know where this is going.
The setup of the film gives a lot of opportunities for many laugh-out-loud moments, though that might be the issue. Even though I’m happy to see a female-driven R-rated teen comedy for once, The To Do List, like many other teen films, can’t balance between vulgarity and story. It tries to deliver a lot of shock humor as Brandy goes through her list of crude actions, but since these gags have been done to death, we all know how they play out. So when we see moments like Brandy giving a hand job to Cameron in a movie theater, we’re already a step ahead of the film and we uncomfortably wait for the sequence to finish. Now, I don’t want to discredit the writing and directing skills of Maggie Carey, as she clearly understands teenage awkwardness, but for a movie with coming-of-age intentions, it often feels too outrageous to be relatable.
I think another main reason why The To Do List comes off as a bit too ridiculous is how the characters are portrayed. We’ve obviously got a great cast here, but Carey’s characters are too goofy and stereotypical to be believable. Although I really enjoyed Aubrey Plaza in this movie, as she does play a slightly different character than she normally does, the sexually oblivious character of Brandy feels more overly exaggerated than honest. The rest of the characters are even less realistic, as most of the teens are just as obsessed with sex and partying as we expect them to be like in all generic teen comedies (yes, this is a sex comedy, but it’s almost like there’s nothing else going on in their lives). The only characters, other than Brandy, that I really liked were Billy Hader as Willy, Brandy’s lazy pool manager, and Andy Samberg as Van, the lead singer of a cheap grunge band that Brandy watches at a bar.
Now, this definitely isn’t a bottom-of-the-barrel sex comedy, but there’s just not that much special here, especially considering all the comedic talent behind it. As much as this could have been the female Superbad, it’s more focused on being crude than being relevant. The movie takes place in the 90s, but for what reason? We get some cute references here and there, but what if teen sex culture was different back then? There are a lot of things that could have been explored to make The To Do List not just your average teen sex comedy…but it really is just an average teen sex comedy.
RATING: 5/10. Though I’m probably this hard on it just because I see so many of these kinds of movies, and I want more of them to be unique and smarter, especially if it’s got a female lead. Still, if you don’t watch a lot of R-rated comedies, but you do find them funny, you’ll most likely enjoy this a lot more than I did.