Synopsis: Feeling pressured to become more sexually experienced before she goes to college, Brandy Klark makes a list of things to accomplish before hitting campus in the fall.
Anyone who has seen Parks and Recreations or Safety Not Guaranteed will be familiar with Aubrey Plaza’s schtick; snarky, cynical, stroppy and generally looking like the world owes her a favour. It has up until now served her well in the roles that have allowed her to thrive in her niche, and as a result created a bankable star in the making. It’s a shame then that her first relatively high profile role is somewhat of an awkward fit.
Set in small town Idaho over the summer of 1993 (oh and that made me feel incredibly old that movies are now using the early to mid nineties as a retro time period), Brandy Klark (Plaza) is the archetypical buttoned down, Valedictorian who is off to college to start her adult life. When she meets older surf stud and general floppy haired, shirtless, guitar playing douche-nozzle Rusty Waters (Scott Porter) she realises that she doesn’t want to enter the intimidating sexual arena that is college life without getting a head start on all the things she has until now missed out on. So with the help of her two best friends (Sarah Steele and the always adorable Alia Shawkat) Brandy creates a comprehensive list and gameplan to experience the full gambit of sexual endeavors before the end of the summer.
It is essentially a mishmash of about 50 other teen comedies to have been released over the last 15 or so years about the end of high school marking the beginning of adult hood and the social expectations that come with that. American Pie arguably kick started the slew of sexual shenanigan teen movies to hit cinemas and Walmart bargain bins during the past decade and a half (Europtrip, Sex Drive et al). And while The To Do List tries to freshen up the formulaic format by making it’s lead a girl driven by a common sense approach to best preparing herself for the next phase of her life, it ends up treading over well worn ground with a rehashing of some all to familiar set pieces (awkward parent shagging moment; terrible first kiss; the protagonist so blinded by their quest for sex with the wrong person they don’t see the person in front of them blah blah). There is just nothing new to see here.
Plaza also never looks comfortable playing the good girl going bad. Her monotone delivery pushes Brandy’s character into cynical when she is arguable naive, and she fails to inject the heart needed to make her likable enough to root for her essentially whoring herself around, bound by a tight time frame, in the name of preparedness. To the film’s benefit it is ultimately the supporting cast who lift it from being totally mediocre, with Clark Gregg and Connie Britton brilliant as Brandy’s chalk and cheese parents, and Bill Hader as the slacker pool manager who takes her under his wing.
Unfortunately for The To Do List there are to many other films in recent times that have told the same story in much smarter and more sincere ways. Easy A and The Way Way Back two standout examples of injecting heart and empathy into the quagmire that is the teenage emotional spectrum.
Conclusion: Ultimately forgettable and an unfortunately uncomfortable fit for Plaza who needs to widen her range before stepping into characters beyond the niche she has so successfully carved herself. Go seek out Easy A or Mean Girls for master classes in female driven high school comedies.
Cast: Aubrey Plaza, Johnny Simmons, Bill Hader, Alia Shawkat, Sarah Steele, Clark Gregg, Connie Britton, Rachel Bilson