8/1/2013 - A straight-arrow student decides to kink it up before college in The To Do List, a female variation on the high-school-boy-looking-to-lose-It comedy.
It’s 1993 and Brandy Klark (Aubrey Plaza) has graduated high school — valedictorian no less — and is college bound. After a drunken almost-encounter with local hottie Rusty Waters (Scott Porter), Brandy starts to fear that her lack of sexual experience will get in her way in college. So, this hyper-organized A-student opens her Trapper Keeper and sits at her desk next to her Hillary Clinton picture and gets to work making a list of things she wants to do before starting her freshman year. The list, a rounding of bases as it were that I pretty much can’t describe at all, ends with her losing her virginity to Rusty Waters, who, helpfully, will be her co-worker all summer long at the community pool. Also joining Brandy in lifeguarding duty is Cameron (Johnny Simmons), a boy whom she’s never really thought of in “that way” but who is deeply in crush with Brandy. She brushes him off when he gets her socks as a graduation gift (they’re slippers! he insists) but then turns to him to help her fulfill some of the items on her list, to his utter befuddlement.
Brandy is egged on in her experimentation by her friends, Fiona (Alia Shawkat, Arrested Development’s Maeby) and Wendy (Sarah Steele), and by her older sister Amber (Rachel Bilson). Meanwhile, Brandy tries to keep her plan from her supportive mom (Connie Britton) and her square dad (Clark Gregg).
I had a hard time separating my feelings about the movie itself from the glee I felt being immersed in the world of 1993. Trapper Keepers! Caboodles! Brandy’s “Pro-Clinton, Pro-Choice” T-shirt! The push-button, see-through, corded telephone in her room! Unflattering floral-prints! The original cast Beverly Hills 90210 poster! The Parker Lewis Can’t Lose-style silky men’s dress shirt that somehow made every guy look like he had a sunken chest! My God, the Spin Doctors! I can’t help it, I loved this seeing this stuff. I found myself laughing throughout this movie as much from nostalgia at the term “electronic mail” as from the actual humor contained herein. So take my recommendation with a grain of salt if you don’t sometimes, when you hear about people protesting something, think to yourself “Donna Martin graduates!”
And, yes, despite having comedy that leans too hard on Beaches references and the sight gag of terrible shorts, The To Do List does get my recommendation. Plaza’s Brandy is a different kind of oddball from her April on Parks & Recreation. She represents the awkward go-getter girls of a certain age who were nerdy before it was even remotely cool and who didn’t have Sex and the City (for good and for ill) informing their relationship with, well, relationships. She presents this kind of smartypants naiveté well and with heart. Most of the characters here get some moment of emotional depth that makes them more than just type but real-ish, rounded people.
The To Do List is perhaps a better time capsule than movie, but it’s still a better, more genuine comedy than most rated-R fare. B
Rated R for pervasive strong crude and sexual content including graphic dialogue, drug and alcohol use and language — all involving teens. Written and directed by Maggie Carey, The To Do List is an hour and 44 minutes long and distributed by CBS Films.