News Column

Review: 'The To Do List'

July 26, 2013


July 26--"The To Do List" is a movie that I wanted to like more than I did.

"American Pie," "Porky's," "The 40 Year Old Virgin" and so many more movies worse than them have provided the male perspective on losing one's virginity. Let's give the girls a turn.

First-time writer/director Maggie Carey's film ultimately reminds more of those hot-for-anything male fantasies than anything revolutionary, despite the gender switch.

Her debut is better than many in this lot, which speaks to the low expectations of this genre.

There's a unique concept, with Aubrey Plaza ("Parks and Recreation") playing Brandy, a high school valedictorian who feels prepared for college except for sexual experience.

The idea of Brandy taking a clinical approach -- as if "losing it" is her summer lab assignment -- to the point of having a checklist of dozens of sexual acts, and then having her be in control of these experiences, and finding the boys to be willing participants in these tests? That's funny in and of itself.

The execution of this concept is amusing early in the picture thanks to Plaza, whose matter-of-fact comedy style overemphasizes each act in direct relation to her own naivete about sex.

This despite her living in the same house as her sexually carnivorous sister played by Rachel Bilson. Brandy must live in a vacuum, you would think, but this setup is a too-frequent movie conceit.

The script ultimately plays more to many gross-out gags meant to make you forget how unrealistic the lead character is in this setting of 1993 Boise, Idaho, based on Carey's own experiences.

It makes "The To Do List" more of a drive-by funny film. It's as if Carey filmed every funny sex joke, euphemism and double entendre she could remember from 20 years ago, and then dreamed up a soundtrack from an era that began to deal with sexuality in song in a frank manner.

There are solid laughs in the movie, all coming out of the high raunch factor. But the movie is raunchy for the sake of being raunchy. That's the point of the film, but it takes over any other plan to give the film a heart or a conscience or much of a brain, despite the supposedly high I.Q. of the "Mathlete" lead character, who is dense in all social graces.

The movie wants to join the ranks of a "Superbad" in its comedy bromance for the female set, but Brandy and her BFF pals never show that they care about one another more than they care about the opposite sex.

Poignancy, a key element in making any sex comedy something more important, is lacking.

Bill Hader (Carey's husband) plays Willy, who is Brandy the lifeguard's slacker boss at the community pool, and he has many of the film's funniest lines in a kooky performance that reminds favorably of his "Adventureland" turn.

Thank goodness for Connie Britton and Clark Gregg playing Brandy's parents, coupling for a potent comedy mix of sexual openness (Britton) and a dope who would prefer abstinence (Gregg).

Although a movie like this probably never gets made without the success of a "Bridesmaids," watching this movie should convince anyone of the brilliant social interplay mixed with the R-rated comedy of that film to know that "Bridesmaids" was not raunchy for the sake of being raunchy when compared to imitators.

The movie initially benefits from the use of Plaza's bitter-pill comedy, but "The To Do List" is finally dragged down by the actress. She is best as a supporting player, with her limited but very defined range bouncing so well off actors with more emotional pull.

She flat-lines the movie, in a sense, because her character is essentially the same person at the beginning of the film as she is by the end of the film -- only more experienced with sex acts.

Like many first-time experiences, "The To Do List" is messy and unorganized and awkwardly humorous at times.


Cast: Aubrey Plaza, Johnny Simmons, Alia Shawkat, Bill Hader, Connie Britton, Clark Gregg, Rachel Bilson Theaters: AMC Southroads 20, Starworld 20 Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes Rated: R (pervasive strong crude and sexual content including graphic dialogue, drug and alcohol use, and language -- all involving teens) Quality: (on a scale of zero to four stars)

Michael Smith 918-581-8479


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