Review: The To Do List
“Trying-to-get-laid-while-coming-of-age” comedies are as old as the wind and the moon, or at least about 1973. They’re as much a Hollywood summer staple as solicitation for prostitution arrests on Sunset Boulevard.
The To Do List switches things up a little though. In this movie the female is the one on the hunt for nookie, but for purely academic purposes.
Directed by Maggie Carey, The To Do List stars Aubrey Plaza as the studious Brandy Klark (or “Pancake” to her friends), a recent top-of-her-class high school graduate in Boise, Idaho who has spent the last few years more concerned about her SAT score than boys. But with college right around the corner, Brandy is warned by her slut-tastic older sister, Amber (Rachel Bilson), that she still has a lot to learn about matters of the groin. Brandy then becomes determined to make up for lost time by compiling (then engaging in) a tawdry list of sexual acts in order to gain clinical experience before leaving home for campus life. This list includes everything from the relatively tame (French kissing, hickies) all the way up to hardcore entries such as a “shocker,” “69” and no less than 3 types of “jobs.” The final entry and culmination of the list is, of course, sex.
Keep in mind here, if you happen to be a father of a daughter, this film will play out more like a horror movie than a comedy. And even if you don’t fit into that category, be prepared for a level of raunch that would scandalize a Tijuana peep show goat. Some of you might remember when Porky’s came out, and how many saw it as a portent of the imminent downfall of American society. We wonder how the denizens of 1982 would feel if they knew that in just 30 years there would be a mainstream movie that features a teenage girl taking a bite out of a log of human crap. Not to mention a shower room fellatio spit take, a fairly graphic hands-in-the-panties masturbation scene and the number of other carnal exploits carried out by a main character who, if she wore the right outfit, could easily pass for a 13-year-old (even though Plaza is 29).
If you can get past that, there’s a lot of funny to be had here. Plaza is capable and engaging as a comedic lead and the supporting cast performs admirably. Especially Bill Hader (who happens to be the director’s husband, by the way) as the burnout manager of the public pool where Plaza’s character works for the summer. Speaking of the pool, it’s this setting that serves as the main stable from which our protagonist picks out the various young men who will act as unwitting but willing participants in her quest to check off different naughty entries on her list.
First, there’s the prototypical nice guy who’s loved Brandy all through high school, Cameron (Johnny Simmons). He gets a hand job in return for a finger “bomb.” Then there’s Donald Glover as Adam, who takes care of the cunnilingus entry until his little brother walks into the room. Christopher “McLovin” Mintz-Plasse gets dry humped, and Andy Samberg receives the aforementioned shower fellatio in a very funny cameo as a grunge musician. As far as the actual intercourse goes, Brandy has her sights set on a ripped, guitar-playing, surfer-haired doofus named Rusty Waters (Scott Porter), an object of overwhelming lust since an accidental makeout session occurred at Brandy’s first “real” party.
Ok, so we’ve talked enough about why it’s rated R. There has to be some dramatic tension in between all the genital fumbling though, right? This comes from “good guy” Cameron’s depression over Brandy’s unwillingness to equate their heavy petting with anything substantive, and Brandy’s friends’ (Sarah Steele and Arrested Development‘s Alia “Maeby” Shawkat) aggravation with her over an inconsiderate escapade with Mintz-Plasse, whom one of them already had inexplicable designs on. Finally there’s Connie Britton as Brandy’s enabling mother and Clark Gregg (Agent Coulson!) as her suitably horrified father.
Many of the punchlines rely on nostalgia for the year in which this story takes place, 1993. Twenty years ago is probably sufficiently ancient enough for the likely audience of this movie to be considered worthy of this kind of treatment, but 1993 never really saw the kind of fashion misjudgements and cultural oddities as in 1969 or, say, 1985. Nonetheless, period appropriate music from 2 Live Crew and Big Head Todd set the various tones while the fact that the Internet has yet to explode is made abundantly clear.
Everything is resolved and lessons are learned such as “sex is important, but not that important.” The role-reversal of The To Do List is an interesting concept, and it certainly gives its female cast members the opportunity to dabble in the kind of down-and-dirty style of humor that the women of Bridesmaids pulled off so well. As was mentioned previously, there are a number of funny moments in this movie, especially for those who require an adult guardian to get into the theater. The guardian however, has likely seen all this before.
E. Reid Ross is highly qualified to review movies, at least according to his grandmother. There is also an entire shelf in his home that is almost halfway filled with DVDs, which has to say something, right? Feel free to friend him on Facebook, follow him on Twitter and check out his supple body of work over on Cracked.com. He and a few pals also blaspheme old comics at RealToyGun.com.