Thursday, July 25, 2013

'The To Do List' Movie Review

Maggie Carrie’s “The To Do List” aims to do for teen sex comedies what “Bridesmaids” does for the bachelor party film, and “The Heat” does for buddy cop movies. It takes a well-worn, male dominated genre, and tells that same story, only this time from a female perspective. And it’s really god damn funny to boot, which, for a movie like this, means that it’s mostly successful. Trying to do something different is laudable, but if this movie doesn’t make you laugh above everything else, and question the taste of everyone involved, then what the hell is the point?

“The To Do List” is a throwback to the likes of “Porky’s,” “Losin’ It,” and even “American Pie,” in both good and bad ways. While it soars to great highs of teen gross out humor as the protagonist attempts to lose her virginity, it also comes with the requisite lesson learned and everybody-hug ending that you see coming right out of the gate. You wind up with a fair amount of middle of the road filler, wasted opportunities, and under-utilized actors. There are a ton of uproarious laughs, but the film blows a single note for 90 minutes. It’s a fun note, but anything played that long wears out its welcome eventually.

After her friends kidnap her for a graduation-night kegger, straight-A student, valedictorian of the class of 1993, and stick-up-her-ass virgin, Brandy Klark (Aubrey Plaza), realizes just how little she has lived. In order to prepare for college, which her sister (Rachel Bilson) assures her is a sexual free for all, and because she’s a meticulous nerd, Brandy makes a checklist of sexual goals and adventures to accomplish over the summer. This includes Frenching, hickies, hand jobs, blow jobs, rim jobs—so many jobs—and dry humping, among other tasks. Her debauched marathon will culminate in sexual intercourse with Rusty Waters (Scott Porter), a dreamy lifeguard with a soul patch who plays Def Leppard songs on an acoustic guitar.

Though you don’t buy for a second that Plaza is a high school student, she’s perfect as the uptight, analytical Brandy, who, advised by her “loose friends” Fiona (Alia Shawkat) and Wendy (Sarah Steele), callously works her way through her sexual self-education, from flirting to felatio. Plaza plays her sarcastic deadpan to great effect, and Brandy doesn’t understand why people think she’s such a cold bitch. Being teenage boys, most of the guys, including Donald Glover, Christopher Mitz-Plasse, and Andy Samberg, are into her various endeavors. Cameron (Johnny Simmons), the earnest lab partner—think Ethan Embry in “Can’t Hardly Wait”—on the other hand, pines for her and feels each act as a deep, personal wound.

Most of these talents are, not quite wasted, but never used to their full potential. You get it, to let these actors run wild would be to risk them taking center stage and turning the movie in a different direction, but it’s sad to see Jack McBrayer squandered. His biggest laugh comes the moment he first appears on screen. Still, there are some fantastic supporting performances. Clark Gregg as Brandy’s Rush Limbaugh-reading father, and Connie Britton as her more-liberated-than-he-thinks wife, are both great. The real standout, however, is Bill Hader as Willy, Brandy’s burnout, alcoholic boss at the swimming pool. Not only is he ridiculously funny, but he’s also the sweet, gooey emotional center of the film. What is it with coming of age movies this summer and unlikely father figures who run water-themed attractions? (See Sam Rockwell in “The Way Way Back” fulfill a similar role.) He manages to be kind and supportive when Brandy needs it, but never fully loses his raunchy edge.

Some of the bits falter, like when Brandy dons a bikini in an attempt to catch Rusty’s eye, only to lose the top on the waterslide. The joke about her being flat chested just goes on and on, driven into the ground until the entire pool is laughing at her. You see what they’re going for, Brandy stands there, defiant in her nakedness, but after a while you feel like they’re just making fun of her, and by extension, Plaza.

Though “The To Do List” does rely too heavily on middle of the road bodily fluid gags, by and large most of the jokes land, the relationships are solid enough to get what you need from them, and you have to appreciate an end that doesn’t take the easiest, most obvious route. The story never builds up to quite the high that you expect, and hope, but that’s ties into the thematic point. At the end of the day the big lesson is that sex is important, but not that important. It’s a big deal and not a big deal, all at the same time. This isn’t the grandest statement a film has ever made, but it’s true enough to take to heart. That’s what you’ll walk away from “The To Do List” with, it was fun, but not particularly important.

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