Hey, do you remember how funny things were in the ’90s? People wore clothes and did dances and there were foods…
Well, “The To Do List” remembers. And for an unfortunate early amount of the film, writer-director Maggie Carey seems content to ride the wave of nostalgia like it’s inherently funny. Snackwells, right? VCRs? Uh…the Roger Rabbit? Ha haaaa, yeah. Those were things. Possibly that reliance on the existence of stuff is due to the performance of Aubrey Plaza (“Parks and Recreation,” “Safety Not Guaranteed”) as overachiever Brandy Klarck.
Plaza plays Klarck as an alien, dropped onto Earth just in time to graduate as valedictorian of her high school, and experience a sexual awakening, spurred on by her slutty best friends. How is it a girl with two slutty best friends knows absolutely nothing about sex? GREAT QUESTION.
I understand that she’s supposed to become humanized throughout the film as she’s learning things, but she doesn’t have to start off as a robot. Sadly, this accounts for the mostly laugh-free early going as Brandy becomes smitten with Rusty Waters (Scott Porter, “Friday Night Lights”), begins work at the local swimming pool with Willy (Bill Hader, “SNL”), and tries to experience everything sexual before she starts college.
Much hay is made during the scene where she creates a list of sexual activities she needs to try, though there’s little explanation of how she knows the terms, but not the definitions, of “motor-boating” and “finger-banging.” Yes, this movie takes place in the early days of Internet adoption and apparently before it was OK to ask questions.
But Brandy, and the movie, comes into her own at the pool. Surrounded by Willy, Rusty, the puppy dog longing of Cameron (Johnny Simmons, “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World,” “The Spirit”) and plenty of evil little kids, she learns that being a know-it-all doesn’t mean you know everything, and that actions have consequences.
Sorry if that seems vague, but in the interest of keeping the movie interesting, it’s probably best if you don’t know everything going in. Yes, there are some pretty predictable plot points, but it’s here that the movie zigs and zags away from the traditional. Brandy’s awkward encounters are checked off one by one (and captured hilariously in freeze frame), but where another film would linger too long on her embarrassment, “The To Do List” keeps churning along and Plaza’s brazen experimentation gets funnier and funnier.
It is a testament to the movie’s originality that even the usual beats have a clever twist or two; like the over-protective father who is as much an ingenue as his daughter, the ill-fated hookups that, in the end, are about as successful as any of us have had and best of all, the cookie-cutter ending that goes completely free-form.
Brandy, for all her naiveté about sex, is quite intelligent. And the conclusions she reaches are far from boring.
The early going of “The To Do List” is a bit rough, with a few laugh deserts along the way. But it’s redeemed by a solid second half and a script that finally moves beyond “Hey, Remember the ’90s” jokes.
I give it three out of five Aubrey Plazas rubbing one out on a cushion.
“The To Do List” is rated R for pervasive strong crude and sexual content including graphic dialogue, drug and alcohol use, and language – all involving teens.