Film Review: The To Do List

by Chad Liffmann on July 26, 2013

A raunchy two-joke movie that keeps the humor flowing.

Aubrey Plaza demonstrates her (acting) skills.

Aubrey Plaza demonstrates her (acting) skills.

If you’re old enough to remember growing up in the 90’s, then The To Do List will supply you with a healthy dose of nostalgia.  If you like sexual humor and gross-out comedies, then The To Do List will surely entertain you.  If you find the combination of 90’s culture and sexual humor appealing, then this movie is basically a cinematic orgasm.  It’s also a coming-out party for Aubrey Plaza, if Parks & Recreation hasn’t yet done the trick.  The To Do List turns the stereotypical preachy message that you’d find in most romantic comedies (even the gross ones) over on its head, instead delivering the truth about teenage sexual curiosity and pressures…the unabashed, awkward, and honest truth.

Plaza is fearless in the role of Brandy Klark, a graduating straight-A high school valedictorian who writes a list of sexual experiences she intends to fulfill before heading off to college.  Along with her two best friends, Wendy (Sarah Steele) and Fiona (Alia Shawkat), Brandy plots her way to new sexual experiences, the gold trophy being sexual intercourse with super hunk Rusty Waters (Scott Porter).  Meanwhile, lame-o boy next door type Cameron (Johnny Simmons) is after Brandy’s affections, Brandy’s boss Willy (Bill Hader) at the neighborhood public pool loves giving Brandy a hard time, and her uppity older sister Amber (Rachel Bilson) treats her like a loser.  The To Do List basically plays out as a series of chronological vignettes in which Brandy’s becomes more and more sexually experienced, with her newfound accomplishments getting a bit to her head and affecting her relationships to her friends and family.  There isn’t much, plot wise or joke wise, that we haven’t seen before, but it’s the performances and playful presentation that make The To Do List a raunchy good time.

The 90’s humor is especially amusing (be sure to check out the stellar soundtrack).  The events of The To Do List are not tailored toward the 1990’s (it takes place in 1993, to be exact), yet it’s crucial that they take place in the infant years of the Information Age, right before the time when it became as easy as a few mouse clicks to get information on…you know…anything.  Of course, setting the story in 1993 also allows for some great wardrobe changes, cheesy expressions, hilariously outdated product placement, and pop culture references (a few that are still relevant today).

The sexual humor in The To Do List rides the line between safe and graphic.  Although there’s no nudity (maybe some partial), there’s plenty of moments that don’t shy away from putting the intimate moments, and gooey results, front and center.  The unashamed nature of the movie is one of its strongest charms.  It has also been rare to see a female lead in a sex comedy of this nature.  Thus, for the film to avoid playing it too safe because it’s venturing into rarely-charted territory is also an accomplishment.  But, the film does limit itself in other ways.  It was only after the film ended when I realized that many of the funny scenes followed the same exact formula– have someone walk in on the intimate moment.  It’s hard to fault the movie for relying on this device so often when it pulls it off so effectively, but one could imagine that there are other ways to formulate shock value.

As hilarious as the setup for the story is, it’s also a shame The To Do List doesn’t go one step further and expand upon the, shall we say, less than common sex acts.  Brandy’s list is fairly thorough, with a few of the items being so specific and fetish-oriented that the potential for failing to illicit laughs, if the subject matter was explored, was perhaps too scary to seriously consider.  It would have been fun to see the film try.  The To Do List can already serve as a prep talk for the young and inexperienced.  A few more explicit lessons would not have hurt.  For example, upon exiting the theater, a young man among a group of friends exclaimed, “what IS a pearl necklace!?”  Good question young man.  A pearl necklace is when…

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The To Do List opens in Bay Area theaters today, July 26th, 2013.

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