Monday, July 1, 2013

Review: The To Do List

Release date: July 26, 2013July 26, 2013
Running time: about 100 minutes
Starring: Aubrey Plaza, Johnny Simmons, Bill Hader, Alia Shawcat, Scott Porter, Rachel Bilson
Who to see it with: Someone disappointed by the lack of female-lead teen sex comedies


The To Do List is set in the summer of 1993. When awkward valedictorian Brandy Clark (Plaza) is unwillingly taken to a party by her two best friends, she meets hot college guy Rusty (Porter) and is mesmerized by his looks and guitar playing. After a strange series of events leads to a brief, drunken make out session, she realizes that her sexual inexperience is embarassingly apparent and hurts her dating prospects. Her much more experienced sister (Bilson) informs her that college is going to be full of sex, so Brandy decides to use this pivotal summer to learn the basics. Being a rigorous student, she approaches this problem academically, making an incredibly thorough sexual checklist to guide her hands-on research. By summer's end she hopes to bag Rusty, who works at the pool with her lovelorn friend Cameron (Simmons) and goofy boss (Hader).
Brandy is a very likable protagonist, and Plaza's usual monotone, deadpan acting suits the character's awkwardness. Her unusually pragmatic approach to sexual exploration  is  a smart, unique foundation for a "can't go to college a virgin" teen comedy. She's easily the best thing about the movie, mystifying her friends and coworkers with her uptight, clumsy attitude and behavior. The checklist scenes are some of the film's best, and raunchiest, moments. Brandy propositions confused guys in an oddly straightforward manner, and their encounters always end with crude sight gags. The film has a refreshingly positive attitude toward female sexuality, never slut shaming Brandy for exploring her sexual curiosity.
The worst thing about this comedy is its disappointing writing. The 1993 setting feels like an excuse to make lots of easy references to early 90's music and pop culture, designed to get a chuckle because nostalgic viewers recognize a name or song rather than being thoughtfully placed. The other characters are also likable and fairly inspired but, like the references, much of their dialogue seems like it's supposed to be funny just because it's raunchy rather than being clever. And a few scenes near the story's end sound a bit preachy. Despite some funny moments, The To Do List should only be put on your to-do list if you think that an appealing heroine and a novel premise can make up for cheap humor.

Don't see it.

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