Humor scarce in ‘The To Do List’
By ED SYMKUS - More Content Now
I’m sitting here, moments after returning home from seeing “The To Do List,” purportedly a high school sex comedy with a feminist sensibility. But I’m plagued by all sorts of thoughts: It’s not very funny, it’s not at all sexy (although inserting the word “raunchy” might do the trick), the so-called feminists in it are either completely naive or nasty or pushy, and the entire cast of teens is, in real life, in their 20s, with the exception of the guy playing a college kid, who’s in his 30s.
This is a one-joke movie about a young woman’s sexual awakenings that come about, not because of curiosity or even a personal interest, but because of peer pressure. Brandy (Aubrey Plaza) is the class valedictorian. She has only a couple of friends and is far more interested in books than boys, which, of course, is why she’s still a virgin. But her older sister Amber (Rachel Bilson) who is, shall we say, more experienced, convinces her that she should broaden her horizons before heading off to college in the fall.
Hence, a to do list, one filled with all kinds of sexual activities, each one waiting to be checked off as she goes about bumblingly accomplishing them with different guys who have no idea of the list’s existence.
Cheered on by her two pals, Fiona and Wendy (Alia Shawkat and Sarah Steele), who may or may not have their own sexual experiences, Brandy approaches this task as something she’s supposed to do. No fun or happiness need accompany any of it. Though she does, for no reason she understands, have her eyes set on guitar-strumming, hunky-looking Rusty (Scott Porter), a college kid who seems to look at all women with a twinkle in his eye.
It’s too bad that there’s nowhere else for the movie to go. The list is a long one, and a great deal of screen time is spent tackling each entry on it before a check mark is added. And very early on, everything falls into a pattern of repetition, recovering from time to time for a few chuckles and even a couple of good laughs, before reverting back to feeling stretched out and unfunny.
The script features some interesting ideas. Brandy has a summer job as a lifeguard at a community pool where both Rusty and Brandy’s nerdy buddy Cameron (Johnny Simmons), who wants to be more than her friend, also work. But writer-director Maggie Carey forgets to give that convenient coincidence any importance in the plot. And there are some funny bits because there are some funny people n the film, notably Bill Hader as the pathetic pool manager, and Andy Samberg as a rock singer who’s passing through town.
Unfortunately “The To Do List” is saddled with the one-dimensional Aubrey Plaza in the lead role. Maybe it’s me, but I don’t find her very entertaining as the often cruel April on “Parks and Recreation,” and the only thing she seems to have gotten down just right in this film is the rolling of her eyes, which she does incessantly. On top of that, there’s nothing convincing about the changes the script puts her through.
With coarse, juvenile humor being substituted for wit, I have no idea what the point of the film is. Is it saying that sex is important? That it’s unimportant? I just don’t know. Maybe the message of the film is that is has no message.