Judge Clark Douglas' to-do list is far less exciting.
She's going from straight A's to getting her first F.
"You might want to put your top back on."
Facts of the Case
It's the summer of 1993, and Brandy Klark (Aubrey Plaza, Safety Not Guaranteed) has just graduated from high school. Though she was the valedictorian of her class, there's one area in which Brandy has almost no knowledge: sexuality. Determined to gain some sexual experience before heading off to college, Brandy puts together a "to-do list" of sexual activities (starting with mild stuff like French kissing and building toward the eventual loss of her virginity). Over the course of the summer, she ropes a handful of eager guys into her scheme and begins a journey towards physical enlightenment.
To some degree, I respect what The To Do List is trying to do. Over the years, we've seen a host of comedies about nerdy young males on an epic quest to lose their virginity, so it only makes sense that someone should make a movie about a nerdy young female on a similar quest. Unfortunately, Maggie Carey's film isn't really any better than many of the mediocre movies it imitates, which I suppose is only to be expected. What could have been a clever, smart bit of gender role reversal turns just another forgettable sex comedy. There are a handful of amusing moments (with a cast this gifted, there would have to be), but this one could have been so much more.
Casting Aubrey Plaza in the central role was certainly a smart starting point. She's consistently terrific on NBC's Parks and Recreation, and her deadpan sensibilities have been utilized well in big-screen features like Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and Safety Not Guaranteed. Plaza successfully alters her established persona just a bit this time around to play a character who's more of a brainy klutz than a sulking cynic, but the writing lets her down. Sure, it's understandable that her character wouldn't be too familiar with certain aspects of sexuality, but the film expresses this notion with groan-inducing gags ("What is teabagging?" Plaza asks innocently while dipping a teabag in hot water).
Speaking of groan-inducing gags, roughly half the jokes in the film are essentially variations on, "Yo, remember the '90s?" There are references to VHS tapes, Sleepless in Seattle, Eddie Vedder, skorts…the list goes on and on. There's nothing wrong with jokes centered around these topics, to be sure, but the film doesn't really make jokes. It simply reminds us that these things happened and then expects us to laugh. When MC Hammer or Salt-N-Pepa starts blasting on the soundtrack, we're expected to chuckle simply because, hey, remember MC Hammer and Salt-N-Pepa? The movie takes the same approach to its sex jokes, often failing to do anything particularly amusing with its raunchy premise and instead expecting the viewer to giggle simply because one of the characters uttered the words, "rim job."
So the central story is largely a bust, but there are sporadic chuckles to be had thanks to the supporting cast. Bill Hader is particularly entertaining as Brandy's scuzzy boss, essentially offering a variation on the role he played in Adventureland. I also kinda liked Clark Gregg (The Avengers) and Connie Britton (Nashville) as Brandy's parents, but they're pretty much playing the parents in every teen sex comedy. Elsewhere, the likes of Andy Samberg (Hot Rod), Donald Glover (Community), Alia Shawkat (Arrested Development), Rachel Bilson (The O.C.), Christopher Mintz-Plasse (Superbad), and Scott Porter (Friday Night Lights) play their assorted roles with energy, but any laughs they deliver come from their natural charisma rather than the lines they're given.
The To Do List (Blu-ray) looks solid in 1.78:1/1080p, though I could have done without the clarity during a couple of the film's gross-out gags (the scenes involving certain bodily fluids at least fit comfortably within the genre, but a scene in which Brandy ends up chewing on some fecal matter—no, really—feels weirdly out-of-place). Detail is strong, bright colors have a lot of pop and flesh tones are natural. The DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio track is fine, dominated by swaggering '90s pop/rock and hip-hop tunes. Dialogue is clean and clear, and the occasional moments of prominent sound design are well-handled. Supplements include a commentary with director Maggie Carey and Bill Hader (Carey's real-life husband), a gag reel, some deleted scenes, a making-of featurette ("Maggie Carey: Directing Her To-Do List") and a "Dirty Mouth" featurette that collects every filthy or foul-mouthed moment in the film in a single montage. Ho, ho.
I really wanted to like The To Do List, but its pleasures are way too few and far between considering the talent involved. A shame.
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