Aubrey Plaza as Brandy Klark
Johnny Simmons as Cameron
Bill Hader as Willy
Alia Shawkat as Fiona
Sarah Steele as Wendy
Scott Porter as Rusty Waters
Rachel Bilson as Amber
Christopher Mintz-Plasse as Duffy
Andy Samberg as Van
Donald Glover as Derrick
Adam Pally as Chip
D.C. Pierson as Hillcrest Lifeguard #1
Dominic Dierkes as Hillcrest Lifeguard #2
Connie Britton as Mrs. Klark
Clark Gregg as Judge Clark
Directed by Maggie Carey
Virginal valedictorian Brandy Klark (Aubrey Plaza) is about to head off for college and her best friends (Alia Shawkat and Sarah Steele) and older sister (Rachel Bilson) urge her to experiment sexually before getting there. At a wild party, she spots the dreamy Rusty Waters (Scott Porter), a bare-chested rocker who she immediately lusts after and sets her sights on getting enough sexual experience that he’ll want to take her virginity. The over-achiever tackles the project like she does anything else, by making a list of all the sexual activities she’s never done and checking them off her list one at a time.
From the opening credits cut to the tune of 2 Live Crew’s “Me So Horny,” you may think you know what to expect from Maggie Carey’s directorial debut, a raunchy ’90s throwback sex comedy, and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because from the second we meet Aubrey Plaza’s overachieving valedictorian Brandy Klark, you realize that you’re in for a very special showcase for the talented “Parks and Recreation” actress that will prove that she has a lot more range than just doing the deadpan hipster thing we’ve seen from her so much in the past. What you might not expect is that the results are a special type of comedy that’s clearly a labor of love for everyone involved and it shows.
The premise couldn’t be simpler, essentially following Brandy’s journey of sexual discovery as she writes up and goes through a list of sexual activities she’s never experienced in the funniest and most awkward ways possible. The results are reminiscent of “Easy A,” another raunchy sex comedy that acted as a showcase for Emma Stone, but the fact that Plaza, who is in her mid-20s, can pull off playing a teen girl in all her confusion and neuroses is a testament to this really being her movie through and through. While much of the fun of the movie involves its ’90s setting, there’s also something incredibly amusing about having obviously 20-something actors playing high school0age students and the movie probably wouldn’t work at all if Plaza et al weren’t able to pull it off.
One of the problems with comedy is that many times, the best jokes are used up in the trailer, but there’s still more than enough ongoing subplots and running jokes over the course of following Brandi’s journey that you won’t ever get bored. Part of this is due to the amazing cast Carey’s assembled around Plaza which really goes a long way to keeping things from getting dull every step of the way. While Alia Shawkat and Sarah Steele play Brandy’s catty friends as you might expect, possibly the most surprising secret weapons in Carey’s arsenal is Johnny Simmons as Brandy’s best friend, who has stronger feelings for her and ends up getting hurt as she drags him into her sexual experiments. It’s actually jaw-dropping that Simmons is also in his mid-20s because he seems so fresh-faced and innocent that you honestly believe you’re watching a teenage boy. That’s largely a testament to what Carey has done with the cast, even by having someone like “Community” star Donald Glover playing a smaller (and younger) role.
Carey fills in the young cast with a number of older ringers including Bill Hader (her husband) who plays the crotchety manager of the local pool where Brandy works who is constantly hazing the newbie. This offers another opportunity for laughs although there are times when Carey goes too far into gross-out territory with jokes involving bodily fluids that are a bit too graphic. Then on top of that, you get the likes of Clark Gregg and Connie Britton as Brandi’s parents–one prurient, the other permissive–and Rachel Bilson as Amber, Brandy’s slutty older sister, all of which brings another level of humor to the movie. In fact, the only actor who really doesn’t seem to be doing anything too different from the norm is Christopher Mintz-Plasse, who plays a similar character as he did in “Superbad” – which arguably is a much funnier and stronger movie.
There are certainly aspects of the movie that might separate people based on gender lines like when Brandy rebonds with her friends with “Wind Beneath My Wings,” and older folks that laugh at certain things might wonder how many young people will understand some of the 20-year-old references.
What it comes down to is that Carey’s a far stronger writer than she is a director, someone who has a lot of ideas but doesn’t necessarily know how to fully incorporate all of them into a coherent comedy, especially when she starts running out of relevant ’90s musical references and starts milking her CD collection for all its worth. Then again, how can anyone say anything negative about the first movie in probably 20 years that uses the House of Love’s “I Don’t Know Why I Love You?” in such a great way?
The Bottom Line:
Besides being a fantastic showcase for the talents of Aubrey Plaza, “The To Do List” is an incredibly catchy attempt at a retro sex comedy unlike anything we’ve seen in some time and while it does go a bit overboard with the raunch at times, it offers enough solid laughs to make it worthwhile.