Aubrey Plaza stars as Brandy, a high school graduate who spent her four years in pursuit of academic excellence. Her best friends convince her that she wasted her time as the school’s straight-A uber-nerd. Now, Brandy is convinced that she must lose her virginity and become a sexual dynamo before her freshman year of college. Her summer before entering campus life consists of being a lifeguard, battling her annoying sister (Rachel Bilson, who’s a riot) and going through an X-rated to-do list of various positions and personal degradations.
The To Do List isn’t the first film of its type and doesn’t apply its “novelty” especially well. While it may be rare to see a sex comedy with female leads and a message of girl power equality in dealing with sexual “rules,” this movie is far from the first to arrive at this approach. Movies as old as Where the Boys Are, which was made in 1960 and remade in 1984, were both noteworthy entries of “Girls, let’s go get some action” cinema. Bridesmaids was both hilarious and stunningly raunchy, providing proof positive that some of our sharpest comedic performers and their audiences were women.
On the one hand, it should never come to anyone’s surprise that women can make and enjoy crude comedies about the pursuit of sexual fulfillment. The problem with this latest one is that it aims to be the female American Pie and winds up Van Wilder for girls.
The premise itself is offensive, even as it thinks it’s being empowered: ladies, lose your virginity and become sexual animals for men, right now! Great. Gloria Steinem and I will roll our eyes in unison. Of course, it helps a lot that this is a comedy. If only it were a better one. Plaza, a scene stealer on TV’s Parks and Recreation, is funny but overly self-conscious and so is her movie.
There are some good laughs but most of the time, it rehashes gags that are as old as Porky’s. Too many scenes undermine the feminist take on sexual empowerment. Sure, Brandy is a one-woman sexual revolution but why have her eat excrement (especially since it was done funnier 10 years ago in American Wedding?). Why have her lose her bra at an outdoor pool and be endlessly ridiculed? Even Jason Biggs was never mocked so viciously during his erogenous pursuits.
The many familiar faces in the cast can’t save the movie. Instead of comic secret weapons like Andy Samberg and Bill Hader (whose wife wrote and directed the movie) stepping up and really giving the movie some juice, they merely give their clichéd, cardboard thin roles as much mileage as possible, then vanish from the mind once their scene ends.
Great teen comedies are typically stolen by an overprotective Dad, as evidenced in Clueless, 10 Things I Hate About You and Valley Girl. Here, Clark Gregg, Agent Coulson in the Marvel franchise movies, scores big laughs as “Judge Clark.” His straight arrow dad wouldn’t be out of place in the 1950s and his too brief scenes are as good as this gets. But Bilson has never made this strong an impression and is a great foil for Plaza.
The overpraised but still sharper Easy A handled this kind of plot better, but without gross-out visuals and non-stop vulgarity. I’ve always liked R-rated teen comedies, whether it’s Revenge of the Nerds or the potently crude Weird Science. The best examples of this genre have a charm and even a surprising sweetness to them. Not this one. The To Do List demonstrates how degrading one’s self in a sex romp can be an equal opportunity mistake.
The To Do List
Rated R / 104 Min.