Much like a high school senior, The To Do List is a raunchy comedy with a serious identity crisis.
Director/Screenwriter Maggie Carey wants her big screen debut to be this breezy, nonchalant look at sex and all the awkwardness that comes with it. While the film easily straddles the lines of good taste (one audience member walked out of the screening I attended after the lead character ate feces), Carey doesn’t push the limits enough to deliver on its good girl gone really bad premise.
Brandy Klark (Aubrey Plaza, Parks and Recreation) is at the top of her high school graduation class and while she’s conquered every academic challenge before her, she’s operating on a remedial level when it comes to sex — a lesson she’s harshly reminded of when she ruins a chance to hook up with a hot college guy, Rusty Waters (Scott Porter).
Determined to gain the sexual experiences she missed out on while buried in books, Brandy pledges to lose her virginity to Rusty and writes a to-do list of all the steps she needs to take before going all the way. And for further motivation, she has a summer job working as a lifeguard with Rusty and a slacker boss (Bill Hader, Forgetting Sarah Marshall).
She uses her platonic friend, Cameron (Johnny Simmons, The Perks of Being a Wallflower) as a training partner before moving on to anyone else willing to help including a lifeguard (Donald Glover) a musician (Andy Samberg) and fellow student (Christopher Mintz-Plasse).
The film is set in the 90s, but the time frame doesn’t lend itself to as many obvious jokes as the 70s or 80s. That’s partly because retro 90s attire is currently hot again so the obvious visual gags aren’t nearly as effective.
Besides a soundtrack that will remind you of those annoying days of rewinding and fast forwarding 2 Live Crew, Naughty By Nature and Salt-N-Pepa’s odes to sex, there’s not a compelling reason to set the film in the 90s.
There are some really funny bits and Carey has a playful take on ending scenes as Brandy checks off another sex act on her list, but those moments are the exception to an otherwise disappointingly boring comedy.
Plaza commits to giving a star-making performance, but she just doesn’t have enough to work with to make Brandy all that interesting — a problem with most of the characters.
Carey’s script consistently lets down its talented cast and instead of a more risqué coming of age story, the one-note characters are so unlikable it’s hard to care about any of them. Brandy is so businesslike in tackling the list that there’s no gleeful sense of accomplishment.
In a reversal of the American Pie format, Connie Britton plays Brandy’s over-sharing mother happy to dispense any sexual guidance while her father (Clark Gregg, Marvel’s The Avengers) is a bit more traditional.
Their dynamic is a lot more fun than watching Brandy add notches to her list and really, anytime you’d rather kick it with the parents, a teen comedy is in trouble. Skip the list and hope Plaza finds a better vehicle for her talents in her next film.
Rating: 3 out of 10
Photo Credit: Bonnie Osborne/CBS Films