The To Do List

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Release: Friday, July 26, 2013

[Theater]

Finally, another movie to showcase Aubrey Plaza’s ridiculous shpiel. Or however you spell that word — gee, it’s about as awkward to spell as Plaza’s mannerisms have been irresistible. From a quieter role in The Office spin-off (coughrip-off coughParks & Rec, to her winning performance in the spectacular and charmingly quirky Safety Not Guaranteed,  she is an indie-actress with unique sensibilities and an awareness of what she’s doing and even if not why, but how she’s doing what. Or maybe my celebrity crush on her just makes me biased, who knows.

This time Plaza holds nothing back as she takes on the role of Brandy Klark, a studious girl who’s just graduated high school but is finding herself desperately missing something having spent all four years buried under school work and not much else. Consequently she’s the valedictorian of her class. And a virgin.

Set in the early 1990s, here’s a raunchy comedy that wouldn’t exactly receive an ‘A’ as far as delivering its message effectively is concerned. Brandy wants to enter college next fall having at least some some sexual experience, and this point is made clear right from the get-go. As we delve further into Brandy’s nerd-gone-wild character arc, we are beaten over the head about the importance of keeping sex in perspective, what sex means, and what that first hook-up was like. The clumsily-structured situation comedy makes for some hilarious (if not awkward) moments  — mostly due to Plaza’s charm — but it may not suit everyone’s palate as far as quality filmmaking is concerned.

Apparently, this is loosely based around the real-life experiences of first-time writer/director Maggie Carey. When Brandy stumbles into Rusty Waters (Scott Porter) — a college student who appears to be sculpted from stone — at a party that she’s been dragged to by her more outgoing friends, her goal is to shed her nerdiness and figure out how best to get with this guy. In the process, she creates a “to do” list, one filled with all kinds of dirty and degrading acts that she has literally done research on, and she aims to accomplish it all come the fall semester. Though she is undeniably cute, she finds herself having a very difficult (and hilarious) time trying to get this thing going.

She picks up a summer job working at a pool in her home town of Boise, Idado, where she is constantly made fun of by her underachieving manager Willy (Bill Hader) and pretty much everyone else. Coincidentally (and annoyingly conveniently) Rusty works as a lifeguard there, as does another boy, Cameron (Johnny Simmons) who has already shown a genuine interest in Brandy. The public pool is something of a contrived plot device — we spend much more time around it than I thought necessary — but in this case it serves up more than a fair share of laughs and touching (literally, touching) moments.

While the story does get distracted far too much in its divulging of as much sexual innuendo as possible (as if trying to compete with American Pie for the “Most Perverted” movie award would do this film any favors) Plaza’s performance saves the film from being truly bad. Her character’s naivety is both perplexing and humorous; delightfully innocent yet inevitably provocative. As she has been in times past, she doesn’t have to do a whole lot to sell her situation competently. And as far as ridiculous situations go, perhaps none are as ripe for comedy than losing one’s virginity. The smallest matters become mountainous obstacles for her character to try to overcome. When they do, we arrive at the most expected of conclusions: sex is not a big deal, folks.

Well, color me shocked. . .

The To Do List is relatively harmless and most of the characters are agreeable enough. With the exception of Christopher Mintz-Plasse and Andy Samberg who feel like total wastes and who could have been supplanted by any no-name actor (an option which would have strengthened the film, truth be told), the cast turns in solid performances that work to elevate Plaza’s head-in-the-clouds, feet-on-the-ground quirkiness to head-scratching levels. That’s a compliment. I think.

At the end of the day, this won’t really be on many people’s minds, but it serves as a satisfactory study of how the perception of sex vastly differs from the actual experience of it. Again, the lessons to be learned here are anything but inconspicuous (and maybe slightly cheesy) but they’re important enough to warrant this film. I had a surprisingly good time despite its overt chick-flicky appeal.

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2-5Recommendation: Aubrey Plaza fans will delight in this; those who don’t understand her antics — stay far away. This is all her show, plus some. Is this the Superbad chick-flick version? Why yes, that’s probably how I would sum this one up.

Rated: R

Running Time: 103 mins.

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Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

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16 thoughts on “The To Do List

  1. Pingback: Top That: My Ten Favorite Comedies | digitalshortbread

  2. This movie looks adorkable and I look forward to checking it out at some point. Do folks actually swim in public pools? The only time I have done that was when I was wasted in Vegas.

    • lol “adorkable.” i think only the most desperate of minglers use public swimming pools. i thought this was a weird center of focus for the film. Bill Hader fan club just increased by one, also.

    • It’s not a terribly memorable one, but I did like it more than I thought I was going to. If it were any more badly acted, i think I would’ve dropped this to a 4 or a 3 on my pie. Aubrey Plaza = so likable. Thanks for reading man.

  3. Very good review but not a movie I’ll ever see. Sooo sick of raunchy comedies. It seems like that’s all Hollywood can do in terms of comedy. And it sounds like this one just tries to one-up all the others except with women.

    • The Way, Way Back was a comedy (a great one!) that didn’t rely on poop/fart/boob jokes, but I definitely feel you on that Keith. There’s an overwhelming percentage of so-called comedies that do go to that. I guess another film that succeeded in being raunchy-but-funny was This is The End, but you might as well avoid The To Do List. As awesome as Aubrey Plaza is. Thankks for reading man.

  4. A pretty decent rating. There are just too many great movies out right now to waste my time on something that isn’t spectacular, however. If this had gotten a 6/8 I might have considered it. Thanks for seeing this so I don’t have to. 🙂

    • No problem Mark! Hahah i debated for awhile whether or not I should see this, but as a big fan of Plaza, I just couldn’t stay away. I might even be generous giving it a 5 honestly, there were certainly some pretty craptastic moments here, but the raunch factor in combination with Plaza’s performance seemed to be just enough to make this fun (for me). Plus. . . a certain. . . few. . . camera angles. . .

  5. For me, it just was not funny. That’s a big problem too, because I usually love these cast-members in almost all that they do. Here, just nobody was clicking. Good review.

    • Yeah that’s a shame, but I see your point for sure. There were a lot of bad turns here, but somehow I was able to overlook them. I think I’m love-sick. 😉

    • Personally I think her character would be even more irritating here if you didn’t much care for her in Safety. She is at times just so hopeless here it’s hard to imagine a person like this. lol. I still had a good time. Must’ve been in a good mood haha.

      Thanks for the kind words

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