The easy comparison is that The To Do List is “American Pie in the female voice.” In a nutshell that’s pretty much it, but writer/director Maggie Carey is cognizant of the likely association to the 1999 raunch-fest and offers enough deviations to keep it original…enough.
Aubrey Plaza makes her feature lead actress debut as 1993 valedictorian Brandy Klark who is looking to spend her summer before college shedding her bookish persona for one who is on a sexual agenda. This “agenda” is the driving force for the film as Brandy chooses to transfer her obsessive determination towards schoolwork to checking off items on an expansive list of sexual acts culminating in actual intercourse with hot college guy, Rusty Waters (Scott Porter).
Brandy’s summer job as lifeguard at the local pool where Rusty works allows her to stay close to the man of her list as well as allow for the addition of a number of funny supporting roles from familiar faces like Bill Hader, Donald Glover, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, and Andy Samberg. Brandy’s decision to go on a sexual quest is also propelled by her being a virgin surrounded by more experienced friends and a sexpot sister (Rachel Bilson). The “list” element is very funny and the film is at its best when it is being outrageous (the freeze frames are hilarious). Furthermore, the 1993 Boise, Idaho setting creates some excellent opportunities for some great Midwestern 90s gags. Writer/Director Carey purposefully cites and references some classically shocking cinematic films in order to proclaim the company she hopes this film will keep: American Pie, Caddyshack, and Pink Flamingos to name a few.
I’m not yet a parent, and I don’t consider myself old or closed-minded, but I can’t help but sense a real shallowness in Brandy’s endeavor. A bright girl victimized by peer pressure with a moral that sex is just sex is hard to get behind, even for a self-proclaimed outrageous comedy. The film’s issues lie in its oddly cold and indifferent attitude towards sex, love, and humanity in general. These decisions seem to be made in order to distance the film from some of its predecessors, but the film’s final act is far from romantic and actually, rather ugly.
The To Do List has some great comedic moments and Plaza is pretty fearless in her performance. The film does accomplish some enjoyable outrageousness and reveals the budding talent of Maggie Carey as new voice in the envelope pushing comedy. However, the tone is as awkward as its protagonist and actually goes as far as to present some very judgmental views towards making good and reasonable choices. C+
The To Do List is rated R (obviously) and has a running time of 1 hour and 43 minutes. Comedy is hard, and the film is moderately successful, but it is not a must see. Expect The To Do List to gather its audience as a DVD commonly found at sleepover parties. Also, it appears this film sat on the shelf for a little while since its actors are noticeably younger. Look out for an infantile Nolan Gould (who plays Luke on Modern Family).