×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘The To Do List’

This maximum-raunch sex comedy stays buoyant and likable throughout thanks to the winning presence of Aubrey Plaza in the lead.

With:
Aubrey Plaza, Johnny Simmons, Bill Hader, Alia Shawkat, Sarah Steele, Scott Porter, Rachel Bilson, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Andy Samberg, Donald Glover, Adam Pally, D.C. Pierson, Dominic Dierkes, Connie Britton, Clark Gregg.

The “R” rating stands for maximum raunch in the case of “The To Do List,” an exuberantly vulgar tale of a high-school valedictorian’s efforts to earn a 1600 on the SATs of intercourse. Featuring a few gags that might make even Judd Apatow blush, this rare femme-centric addition to the loss-of-virginity canon (dominated by the likes of “Porky’s,” “Risky Business” and “American Pie”) hits its fair share of outrageously funny highs amid lots of so-so filler, but stays buoyant and likable throughout thanks to the winning presence of “Parks and Recreation” star Aubrey Plaza in the lead. Arriving at the height of palpable blockbuster fatigue, tyro scribe-helmer Maggie Carey’s low-budget laffer should earn passing marks from auds and score solid sleeper biz for CBS Films.

SEE ALSO: Director Maggie Carey Goes Home in Aubrey Plaza Comedy

Set in the heavily nostalgized, pre-Internet year of 1993 — which, among other cultural signposts, allows for a soundtrack that might be dubbed “Best of Parental Advisory Explicit Lyrics” — the pic springs into motion with studious good girl Brandy (Plaza) discovering that, while she’s been burying herself in schoolwork, most of her classmates have been busy studying how to zooma-zoom-zoom in the proverbial boom-boom. So with the same overachieving resolve she brings to her AP chemistry labs, plus some handy pointers from BFFs Fiona (Alia Shawkat) and Wendy (Sarah Steele), she sets out on a crash course in masturbation, dry humping and oral pleasure, en route to the much-coveted cherry pop. (Pic’s title refers to the carefully indexed checklist Brandy keeps tucked away in — where else? — her Trapper Keeper.)

Further helping to set the stage for this Olympiad of heavy petting is Brandy’s summer job as lifeguard at a community pool (managed by burnout Bill Hader, Carey’s real-life husband), which puts her in flirtatious proximity to dorky, smitten nice guy Cameron (Johnny Simmons) and a buff, bronzed, guitar-strumming dude named Rusty Waters (played with maximum self-mocking vanity by the deft Scott Porter). Both become somewhat unwitting human check marks on Brandy’s list — a sly reversal of the usual gender roles in movies like this, or for that matter Hollywood movies in general.

Indeed, while “The To Do List” isn’t the first movie about a teen girl determined to become a woman, most of the prior examples that spring to mind (Bernardo Bertolucci’s “Stealing Beauty” and the 1980 French hit “La Boum” among them) were more serious in tone and (unsurprisingly) made by European directors. Carey, a veteran of sitcoms and sketch comedy, brings a refreshing laissez-faire attitude toward her ostensibly taboo subject matter, which in turn manages something very few teen sex comedies of any stripe have done: It demystifies the sex act to the point that Brandy’s goal seems ever less momentous the closer she gets to fulfilling it. Or, to quote the movie’s own rather enlightened conclusion, “Sex is a big deal but not always a big deal.”

All of which makes “The To Do List” just promising enough for you to wish it were even better. Though Carey tries to invest the outre merriment with some legitimate emotional stakes, the movie never really connects on that level in the way of the similar-themed “Superbad” and “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” or the best Farrelly brothers romps, because none of the secondary characters have been endowed with distinctive personalities of their own. So whether it’s Cameron’s wounded pride when he feels he’s been used, or Brandy’s ill-judged hook-up with the apple of Wendy’s eye (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), betrayal here never seems more than skin-deep.

Nothing, though, can diminish Plaza’s ebullient, game-faced turn. Looking like the girl most likely to become a kinky school librarian, she hurls herself through the movie’s gauntlet of humiliating physical comedy with stumblebum aplomb, whether trying to save face after an awkward bathing-suit malfunction or (in the pic’s gross-out piece de resistance) sporting a quite literal shit-eating grin. Connie Britton and Clark Gregg also share a few choice moments as Brandy’s parents, the former sympathetic to her daughter’s growing pains, the later naively clinging to the idea that his own wife was still a virgin on their wedding night.

On a technical level, the pic is as crudely made as some of its jokes, perhaps unintentionally calling to mind another early ’90s pop-culture reference: ABC’s hit Friday night lineup of family sitcoms.

Popular on Variety

Film Review: 'The To Do List'

Reviewed at Regal E-Walk, New York, July 11, 2013. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 103 MIN.

Production: A CBS Films release and presentation of a Varsity Pictures/Mark Gordon Co. production. Produced by Jennifer Todd, Brian Robbins, Sharla Sumpter Bridgett. Executive producers, Mark Gordon, Maggie Carey, Bill Hader, Tracy McGrath, Greg Walter, Tom Lassally. 

Crew: Directed, written by Maggie Carey. Camera (color), Doug Emmett; editor, Paul Frank; music, Raney Shockne; music supervisor, Howard Par; production designer, Ryan Berg; art director, Eric Berg; set decorator, Cassandra Fuote; costume designer, Tracye Gigi Field; sound (Datasat/Dolby), Dennis Grzesik; supervising sound editor, Lewis Goldstein; re-recording mixer, Tom Ryan; associate producer, Jason Carden; stunt coordinator, Ross Clay; assistant director, Tara L. Craig; casting, Sheryl Levine.

With: Aubrey Plaza, Johnny Simmons, Bill Hader, Alia Shawkat, Sarah Steele, Scott Porter, Rachel Bilson, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Andy Samberg, Donald Glover, Adam Pally, D.C. Pierson, Dominic Dierkes, Connie Britton, Clark Gregg.

More Film

  • Whose Side Is 'Marriage Story' On?

    Whose Side Is 'Marriage Story' On? (Column)

    Do we choose sides when we watch “Marriage Story,” Noah Baumbach’s brilliant and wrenching drama of divorce? The question, on the face of it, sounds facile in a dozen ways the movie isn’t. Rarely are there winners in divorce, and there are two sides to every breakup. “Marriage Story” is a movie that reflects that [...]

  • The Letter

    IDFA: Kenyan Documentary ‘The Letter’ Debuts Trailer (EXCLUSIVE)

    Variety has been given access to the trailer for Kenyan documentary “The Letter,” by producer-director duo Christopher King and Maia Lekow, which world premieres Nov. 23 at IDFA. The film follows a young man who travels to his grandmother’s rural home when he learns she’s been accused of witchcraft. He soon discovers that the threatening letter she [...]

  • Warner Bros. Box Office

    With 'Good Liar' and 'Doctor Sleep,' Warner Bros.' Box Office Misfortunes Mount

    When Warner Bros. was crafting its 2019 slate, the studio took pains to offer more than just superhero movies. To be sure, there were lots of masked vigilantes too, but more than any of its big studio brethren, Warner Bros. was willing to take a risk on the kinds of thrillers, adult dramas, coming-of-age stories, [...]

  • Constance Wu

    Will Constance Wu Ever Watch 'Hustlers'?

    Despite her leading role, Constance Wu has never seen “Hustlers” and, spoiler alert, it’s very unlikely that she will. Wu explained why she doesn’t want to watch the film to Mindy Kaling (“Late Night”) during a conversation for “Variety Studio: Actors on Actors.” “This is crazy,” Kaling said in the beginning of the interview. “I [...]

  • Ford v Ferrari

    'Ford v Ferrari' Outmatches 'Charlie's Angels' at International Box Office

    Disney and 20th Century Fox’s “Ford v Ferrari” sped ahead of fellow new release, Sony’s “Charlie’s Angels,” at the international box office. Director James Mangold’s racing drama collected $21.4 million from 41 foreign markets, representing 67% of its overseas rollout. “Ford v Ferrari” also kicked off with $31 million in North America, bringing its global [...]

  • Mindy Kaling Constance Wu

    Mindy Kaling, Constance Wu on Working With Women Directors: 'Nothing Felt Exploitative'

    Constance Wu (“Hustlers”) and Mindy Kaling (“Late Night”) discussed the importance of women directors during a conversation for “Variety Studio: Actors on Actors.” Kaling began the interview by acknowledging how having female directors on “Hustlers” and “Late Night” benefited the films. “[‘Hustlers’ director Lorene Scafaria] doesn’t come from a place of, ‘Oh, let’s humanize this [...]

  • Mindy Kaling Actors on Actors

    Why Mindy Kaling Turned to Social Media to Find the Lead of Her Netflix Series

    Constance Wu (“Hustlers”) and Mindy Kaling (“Late Night”) explained how the internet helped expand the casting pool for their projects during a conversation for “Variety Studio: Actors on Actors.” Wu began the interview: “When I did ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ and they were looking for actors, it was crazy how many people said, ‘Well, there are [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content