"The To Do List" Review: Daring, Challenging, And Not Very Good

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The To Do List Review: Daring, Challenging, And Not Very Good

By Dustin Rowles | Film Reviews | July 27, 2013 | Comments ()


The To Do List is loaded with people you love: Aubrey Plaza, Donald Glover, Alia Shawkat, Rachel Bilson, Scott Porter, Connie Britton, and Adam Pally, and it does one hell of a number on the losing-your-virginity subgenre, brilliantly subverting the conservative conventions that still generally provide the backbone to even the raunchiest of teen comedies. There are times in The To Do List when Aubrey Plaza takes it further than Jason Biggs’ pastry fucking, and it is refreshing, and amazing to see the gender-flipping at play, to see the women take the lead in a comedy like this, and to see Plaza transform talking with a mouth full of cum into an empowering gag.

There is, however, almost no emotional core to The To Do List, and maybe that’s the point to what is an anti-John Hughes film. It takes that American Pie formula about scrubbing one’s virginity in the summer before college and flips it. This is not about Jim Levenstein finding the sweet girl with the kinky predilections, or even Preston Meyers finding his soul mate. It’s about a woman who just wants to fuck, to climb the tower of sexual experiences. She has no interest in forging an emotional connection, even at the risk of hurting the men she uses to cross off her To Do List.

It’s kind of amazing.

Unfortunately, it’s also not that funny, and while it is novel to eschew the emotional underpinning that makes a movie like Can’t Hardly Wait and Clueless so successful, it also fails to really connect with the audience, which may appreciate the daringness of The To Do List even without particularly enjoying it. There is, however, a certain second-rate Wet Hot American Summer humor that occasionally works, but too often, The To Do List feels like a series sexually charged sketches that never quite cohere.

Set in 1993 to (poorly) take advantage of the gags in music and fashion inherent in the early 90s style, Aubrey Plaza is Brandy Klark, your prototypical type A high-school valedictorian, played by Plaza a little too straight, as though she’s somewhere on the spectrum. She decides, after being laughed at during her valedictorian speech for being a virgin, to rid herself of that pesky nuisance before she goes to college. She turns the challenge into a To Do List of sexual experiences: Hand job, masturbation, cunnilingus, blow job, etc. that she checks off with a kind of OCD indifference. Her ultimate goal, however, is to conquer Rusty Waters (Scott Porter), a long-haired, shirtless guitar Golden God, who attacks Def Leppard songs with all the douchiness of John Mayer.

To get there, however, she has to run through her list, which provides the canvas upon which writer/director Maggie Carey paints the gross-out gags. In between each step on the bone ladder, she seeks the advice and counsel of her two best friends (Alia Shawkat and Sarah Steele), her slutty sister (Rachel Bilson), and her mom (Connie Britton), who provides intimate sexual advice with that wonderful Connie Britton matter-of-factness. (“Here’s some lube. You put this in your vagina.”) Clark Gregg plays her father, whose conservative boundaries both Brandy and her sister push up against, while Johnny Simmons basically plays Ethan Embry in Can’t Hardly Wait. [It should also be noted that, though most of these characters are playing high school students, no one is under the age of 25 (and some, like Plaza, are pushing 30), but like Wet Hot American Summer, that’s also part of the joke.]

Unfortunately, with the exception of Bill Hader’s dazed-and-confused stoner lifeguard who can’t swim, who provides a fleeting moment or two of pathos, it’s damn near impossible to connect with any of the characters. The women play sounding boards, while the men basically exist for the same reason that women exist in most of these other films: As sexual tools. That’s brazen, and interesting, and if The To Do List were funnier, it’d be easier to forgive the rest of the film’s weaknesses: Its lack of emotion, the clumsy writing, the Farrelly-esque gags that occasionally veer into Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer territory. Too often, The To Do List comes off as a bad parody of loss of virginity movies, instead of the smart satire it wants to be. The To Do List earns a lot of points for trying to be different, but not quite enough to make up for the deficit of good comedy.

Ten Geeks and Nerds I'd Put on My 'To Do List' | I Hate You So Much It Gives Me Energy

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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not

  • Haystacks

    I miss the 90s enough to see this film anyway.

  • lowercase_ryan

    well dammit.

  • foolsage

    * "The To Do List feels like a series [of] sexually charged sketches"

    * "as though she’s somewhere [on] the spectrum"

    * "The women plays sounding boards"

    * "the men basically exist for the same reason that women exist in most of these other films: A[a]s sexual tools"

    * "Its lack of emotion"

    I'm trying to help. :)

  • anatomycoloringbook

    Based on that picture, Alia Shawkat could be my early to mid nineties era twin. Same haircut, bad make-up, ugly fashion and look of disdain.

  • L.O.V.E.

    Haven't seen the movie, but I'm sorry. Is there some explanation in the movie why she needs so much counseling on the ways of losing her virginity. I'm just completely befuddled by a premise that tells me an attractive 18 year old girl (and even if in the movie she is played simply as "average") manages to not meet the 18 year old version of me and not cross-off everything on that list in one night. It would be the sex version of 24.

    Is there some self-imposed rule that she has to have a different partner for each item on the list? Or despite this goal of hers was she very discerning, even though she evidently "just wants to fuck, to climb the tower of sexual experiences. She has no interest in forging an emotional connection"?

    'Cuz I can bet you that within one week of that list being created the gossip is already out (even in pre-text messaging 1993) that the virgin valedictorian is looking to go around the world. There would be no shortage of suitors, dweebs and studs alike.

    I appreciate the attempt to turn the American Pie premise on its head, but I remember high school in that era, and if a girl wanted to have sex all she had to do is go to a house party, sip one Coors Light, and announce the high school mating call, "I'm drunk". Guys had to work a little harder to lose their virginity back then, hence the premise of American Pie.

  • alwaysanswerb

    Since I watched this over the weekend, I can answer this question. Essentially, her virginity and inexperience are chalked up to her not being interested in any such things before. Once she she puts her list together, she has no problem finding willing partners. In a bit of plot contrivance, she doesn't do everything all at once because she needs things explained in between. She's so inexperienced that she doesn't know how to make out properly or what dry humping is, so nothing comes naturally; she has to 'study' for the different sex acts like she studies for school.

    So yeah, you're absolutely right, once she put the list together there was "no shortage of suitors, dweebs and studs alike." The movie never tried to act like her virginity was the result of some kind of ugly duckling syndrome, but rather that she just hadn't put her mind to it, which is an interesting spin for sure.

  • ,

    Heh. There have been times when Mrs. , has said, "Wanna have sex?" and I've replied, "Honey, you need to understand that wanting to have sex is my default mode, but it's not up to me, is it?"

    She still likes me anyway, because I'm not an asshole most of the time.

  • Hahaha at "high school mating call." That WAS it. It honestly was also the college mating call, with more drinks.

  • Josh

    This sounds like an incredibly elaborate and extruded way of saying the movie wasn't good with out actually saying that an Aubrey Plaza movie wasn't good.

  • Maguita NYC

    But then again, His Overlordness would not have been able to add this little wondrous gem:

    "... A long-haired, shirtless guitar Golden God, who attacks Def Leppard songs with all the douchiness of John Mayer."

  • Repo

    Seriously? The title of the review has "NOT VERY GOOD" in it.

  • Fredo

    The whole point of these types of comedies is to make us remember the frustrations, awkwardness and desperation of youth as it relates to sex. If we can relate with the leads (see something of our own plight in theirs) then the movie will work. Think of Easy A or Superbad for two recent, good examples.

    Sounds like this one missed the point.

  • Brown

    I missed the memo on the awesomeness of Aubrey Plaza, but it seems like a poor choice in casting to have the lead actor best known for playing emotionally detached characters in a movie that feels like it should be a lighthearted romp. Sub in someone like Alison Brie and doesn't this instantly get exponentially better? Brie is 30 and at least looks younger as well.

  • Long_Pig_Tailor

    Anna. Kendrick.

    I mean, obviously. Right?

  • Maguita NYC

    I would have also preferred for someone innocent looking to spout and do dirtiest deeds. Would have been funnier, if not more interesting.

  • Brown

    I thought about posting her name as well. You probably have a harder time finding someone who isn't a better pick.

  • AnnaKendrick'sLoveMuffin

    No. I am unwilling to share. Get your own...

  • Wild Rumpus

    While I do love me some of that Aubrey Plaza Baleful Side Eye, I find her to be a weird casting choice for this movie. Miss Plaza pretty much embodies the cynical "not give any fucks" attitude. But it seems like the entire plot of this film is based around the lead character giving all the fucks ... about fucking.

    If that makes any sense at all. It sounded fine in my head, but it can get pretty loud in there. Le sigh.

  • apsutter

    It's odd that Aubrey is the star because her whole persona seems way too insincere and sarcastic for the time period.

  • $2786243

    This was the age of Daria though.

  • Bodhi

    I'm sorry & bring on the downvotes, but I just can't with Aubry Plaza. I don't think she is funny & I don't think she is cute.

  • $2786243

    Her schtick is funny, but in very limited doses, and she doesn't appear to be able to do anything else.

  • clatie

    Was just going to write the same thing. I know it's a schtick, but a pain in the ass is a pain in the ass whether meant to be ironic or not.

  • I saw the trailer and it did a really good job of making me not want to see this movie. Which I guess makes it some sort of Bizarro trailer.

  • barlowjk

    I did not recognise anyone in that photo until I read the cast list. Good lord. 1993.

  • Fredo

    I wonder if they'll have some Arrested Development or Four Non Blondes playing in the background.

  • Dammit Fredo. Now I've got Mr. Wendel fighting Joey in my head.

  • SnowMan

    Headliner, I challenge you to a game of horseshoes.
    A game of horseshoes!

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