The To Do List (2013) / Comedy
MPAA Rated: R for pervasive strong crude and sexual content, graphic dialogue, drug and alcohol use, and language -- all involving teens
Running time: 104 min.
Cast: Aubrey Plaza, Bill Hader, Scott Porter, Alia Shawkat, Johnny Simmons, Rachel Bilson, Clark Gregg, Sarah Steele, Connie Britton, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Donald Glover, Adam Pally
Small role: Andy Samberg, Jack McBrayer
Director: Maggie Carey
Screenplay: Maggie Carey
At first glance, The To Do List might seem like a passive-aggressive answer to the female-centric teen sex comedy Easy A. The Emma Stone-starring vehicle played up its main character's reputation by taking advantage of the bad name she earned for being perceived as promiscuous, when all the while she wasn't having the sex everyone thought she was. This film goes a step beyond by stating, "So what if she were actually having sex? Girls should be just as able to have as much fun as the boys if they so choose, and shouldn't have to be demeaned for it."
While it's an interesting idea, unfortunately, it's all it is. I'm putting The To Do List on my "Too Dumb" list, as this crass and disheartening attempt at a raunchy teen sex comedy from a female perspective ends up being just as terrible as those that traditionally feature teen boys in the protagonist roles. Not that the idea in itself is bad necessarily; it's just executed in a one-note fashion, whereby escalating levels of crudeness are offered in place of any other forms of humor or substance. But not very funny levels either, as we can't identify with any of these thoroughly detestable characters seemingly drawn up merely to deliver additional lines of dialogue meant to shock us into giggling at crude sexual phrases, some of which were not popular at all during the film's setting of Boise, Idaho in 1993.
Aubrey Plaza (Monsters University, Safety Not Guaranteed) stars as high school valedictorian Brandy Klark, whose scholastic achievements aren't enough to give her a positive self image so long as people keep teasing her about her virginity. She begins to believe that she's too inexperienced in the sex department to consider herself ready for life at college, so she puts her organizational skills to use and concocts a "to-do list" of all of the things she feels she needs to experience over the summer (blow jobs, hand jobs, etc.) so that she will go in as a college freshman with a full knowledge of sexual activity, including losing her virginity to the school's hottest hunk, Rusty Waters (Porter, Speed Racer).
Originally sporting the unmarketable title of The Hand Job, The To Do List is written and directed by first time feature film creator Maggie Carey (Carey actually graduated from high school in Boise in 1993), who does offer up a couple of clever insights as a writer to think she's not without a certain comedic talent, though the contrived manner in which she strives for laughs (one involving a turd in a pool that is mistaken for a candy bar) smacks of an agenda to make a teen sex comedy every bit as juvenile and disgusting as the ones men make regularly. However, if The To Do List is an example, her knowledge of how to direct is woefully inadequate, as this film is teeming with unnecessary scenes, is paced poorly, and is rife with continuity errors that are difficult to ignore for those who start to notice such things as where people's arms and legs are from shot to shot, the up-and-down length of a popsicle being consumed, and voice dubbing that doesn't adequately match the person speaking the dialogue. It's a mess.
Fans of Aubrey Plaza may enjoy seeing her front and center in a motion picture enough to forgive the fact that her character is thoroughly unlikeable. The ages of these teenagers shatters credibility, as 29-year-old Plaza is over 10 years older than the character she is playing, as is 31-year-old Rachel Bilson (Jumper) as her slightly older sister, while school heartthrob Scott Porter is way too long in the tooth at the age of 34. Older actors playing teenagers is commonplace in TV and movies, but this is absolutely ridiculous. Carey claims this was intentionally done as part of the "comedy", but it's a joke that has no punch line; it's an excuse, so it doesn't merit a pass.
The adults of the film are just as annoying, with Bill Hader (Men in Black 3, Year One), who is married to writer-director Carey in real life, riffing hammily as an immature and dead-drunk swimming pool manager role that Sam Rockwell did light years better in The Way Way Back. Clark Gregg (Much Ado About Nothing, The Avengers) gets the role typically reserved for someone like Eugene Levy as the very conservative father; he's a fine actor, but there really isn't much for him to do except walk in at inopportune moments for reaction shots that are meant to be funny, but aren't. Meanwhile, Brandy's mother (Britton, Friday Night Lights) decides to have a heart-to-heart sex talk that basically just consists of the need to use lube prior to intercourse (strangely, no mention of the importance of contraception or protection against STDs).
The To Do List is a frustrating teen sex comedy that should only garner laughs from people who laugh at anything that reminds them of the pop culture of their younger years, or that pushes the limits of R-rated features in terms of dialogue. Or perhaps those who misguidedly think that a woman writing and directing a sex romp just as prurient and shallow as the American Pie films is worthy of applause. Two wrongs don't make a right, I say. Some might even applaud Carey for showing us the liberated notion that women shouldn't be ashamed to have sex for sex's sake just like men (interestingly, Carey claims she didn't intend for the movie to be a commentary on double standards), but really, that's no excuse for giving such a poorly executed comedy a pass if it doesn't manage to evoke good laughs or characters we at least enjoy following, even if we never come to care about any of them. Cross this off your "To Watch" list before you check that box.
©2013 Vince Leo