By Dan Metcalf, Jr.
Clipper Film Correspondent
The To Do List (CBS Films)
Rated R for pervasive strong crude and sexual content including graphic dialogue, drug and alcohol use, and language - all involving teens.
Starring Aubrey Plaza, Johnny Simmons, Bill Hader, Alia Shawkat, Sarah Steele, Scott Porter, Rachel Bilson, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Andy Samberg, Donald Glover, Adam Pally, Connie Britton, Clark Gregg.
Written and directed by Maggie Carey.
Sex. It's taboo to some, sacred to others, or no big deal – depending on who you ask. For the past 35 years or so, the topic of teen sexuality and the loss of virginity has been marked by two particular films that caught the attention of the youth of those days. In the 1980s, it was Porky's. In the 1990s, it was (okay - 1999, to be specific) American Pie. The same “touchy” (no pun intended) subject is the the focus of The To Do List, the story of a straight-laced virgin's quest to experiment with all kinds of sex after graduating from high school.
The year is 1993. Aubrey Plaza plays Brandy, class valedictorian and control freak who has just finished high school in Boise, Idaho. After she is ridiculed for being a virgin during her graduation speech, her friends Fiona (Alia Shawkat) and Wendy (Sarah Steele) introduce Brandy to the concept of partying (instead of enjoying some clean fun with her Mormon acquaintances). While at the kegger, Brandy falls in “lust” with Rusty Waters (Scott Porter) and suddenly realizes she can't possibly go to college without gaining all the sexual knowledge she can, along with losing her virginity to Rusty. Using the same organizational skills that compelled her to be an outstanding student, Brandy compiles a list of sex acts she must experience before the summer is over.
Brandy also begins her summer job at a local swimming pool, where her mostly inebriated boss Wally (Bill Hader) allows other lifeguards to haze her. Rusty is one of the lifeguards, as is Cameron (Johnny Simmons), a fellow nerd who secretly pines for Brandy. As Brandy's sex list gets checked off, her parents (Connie Britton and Clark Gregg) are at odds with how deal with her sexual exploration. Meanwhile, Brandy's promiscuous sister Amber (Rachel Bilson) treats her like she would a venereal disease.
The rest of the story is fairly predictable, and it doesn't take much more explanation to figure out what happens as Brandy fumbles her way through the minefield of sexuality, and the trail of destruction and embarrassment she leaves in her wake.
The To Do List is often funny, but mostly due to the cultural references of the early 1990s. It seems the rest of the film finds cheap laughs at the expense of several disgusting gags, all of which seem to be designed to add to the shock-value as Brandy raises the stakes in her sex experiment. Writer-director Maggie Carey treats all sex as something funny, which may not ring true for folks with a more conservative take on the subject. The To Do List also appears to condone the ridicule of virgins (which might be called “bulllying” in another universe). The film does make the valid point that that sex and love are tied together, but in the end, the movie is all about the pleasure, not the relationships.
The To Do List is well-cast, with funny performances by Plaza, Bilson, Britton, Gregg and Shawkat, but Bill Hader's character must have been thrown in to add a little more star quality – as if to send the message that the movie MUST be funny because Hader is in it. Sure, he's funny, but his character feels more like a recycled version of several Bill Murray performances.
So, maybe The To Do List will become the next American Pie or Porky's that a whole new generation of youth will turn into their guilty pleasure. Call me a prude, but for me, I've seen too much of that kind of raunchy comedy already, and I don't think The To Do List provides any new take on sex, nor will it help anyone who might feel a little nervous about sex find any kind of inspiration.