Review: The To Do List
PLOT: High-school nerd Brandy is about to head off to college with zero knowledge of the opposite sex... or sex in general. To prepare herself, she writes up a naughty list of sexual acts that must be completed before the summer is through and she's ready to embark on her new life.
REVIEW: Is it too late to give the idea of THE TO DO LIST to someone who knows what to do with it? The film, written and directed by Maggie Carey, has a "wait until you get a load of this" premise: a nerdy, prudish high school valedictorian named Brandy (Aubrey Plaza) is worried about entering college (and the real world in general) without a single idea of what sex is like. Not even kidding; not only is she a virgin, she seems completely baffled by the very concept itself. So she writes up a to-do list of various sexual exploits that she assumes will make her more worldly - and in the process, land the man of her dreams.
Sure, okay. It's far-out, but you can do a lot with it. Plenty of raunchy comedies have taken even more ridiculous premises and used them to build hilarity upon. If the execution is right, the audience will go along with just about anything. But THE TO DO LIST's execution is wrong, all wrong. And while it fumbles about, you're forced to think about the many plot inconsistencies and incredulities. Such as, why doesn't she just concentrate on having sex once, for god's sake! Does she have to subject herself to two-dozen nasty perversions over the course of three months to feel like she's fully prepared for college? No, don't want to bust my brain on a comedy like this, but if you're not going to bring the funny - and it doesn't - then my mind will wander.
So the more annoying and unfunny the THE TO DO LIST becomes, the more I think about its foolishness. The film strains hard to remind us time and time again that it's taking place in the early 90s, and yet there's no real reason for this, other than, A) so it can churn out a soundtrack of nostalgic 90s hits, and B) so Brandy can't easily access the sex-ed info she needs on the internet. But how then does she hear about all these terms like "rim job", "tea-bagging" and the like? Are we to believe that she has learned the names of these depraved sexual acts but then didn't manage to stumble upon any of the definitions? The 90s were not the 50s; I don't care how much of a prude you were, there's no high school student this completely and utterly ignorant. Not that it matters much, because we're never exactly sold on the time period anyway; my memory may not be the best, but I'm fairly sure no one was saying "hos before bros" - in 1993.
But even considering those issues, the most basic problem with the film is Brandy herself; the character is far from believable, but she's also not likable. Plaza has cultivated a sardonic/above-it-all personality thanks to her turns in FUNNY PEOPLE and "Parks and Recreation", and it works just fine in those situations, but a character like this has to seem genuinely naive, and Plaza's sarcastic demeanor is present in almost every sequence. The supporting cast is also a detriment to Plaza because everyone - from Connie Britton and Clark Gregg as her parents to Alia Shawkat and Sarah Steele as her more knowledgeable friends - is more enjoyable to watch than she is. This is just a case of an actor being all wrong for a role, then doing nothing to convince us otherwise.
Brandy's baffling quest is also not the least bit worth our investment - are we really supposed to "root" for her to receive a pearl necklace? If she manages to check off all these sex acts, ultimately leading to her conquest of the hunk she desires, so what? And if she doesn't accomplish it all, so what then? If the movie had the nuts to go all the way with it, it would be fine; we'd have a trashy hard-R comedy with a plot that didn't really matter. But after hinting that all sorts of debauchery and insane sexual exploits are about to take place, THE TO-DO LIST never actually goes the extra mile. Imagine how disgustingly funny it could be if Brandy learned the hard way what "tea-bagging" is? The writer-director isn't willing to find out, and the film ultimately cops out by becoming yet another raunchy-but-with-a-heart-of-gold Apatow wannabe that already feels dated.
(Really bad joke alert!) Put this on your To Do list: Don't see THE TO DO LIST!