The To Do List (CBS Films, R)

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todolist 75Is this finally the break that 1990s nostalgia needs?


todolist 500 

In theory, The To Do List is an interesting movie: It’s a Hollywood comedy wherein the young main character is trying desperately to lose his/her virginity (see also: American Pie, Superbad, Adventureland; this is a genre that I rather enjoy), but this time it’s written and directed by a woman (Maggie Carey, specifically), and the main character is also a female. Making a film like this in our male-centric movie system borders on being a revolutionary act.

Thankfully, the movie is pretty good, thereby justifying its existence, but all the same, it’s one of those movies that you can’t help but wish was a little better. The premise is a good one: Attractive-but-uptight high school valedictorian and compulsive preparer Brandy Klark (Parks and Recreation’s Aubrey Plaza, who does not remotely look the 18 this film says she is) decides that not only does she need to lose her virginity before starting college, she needs to gain experience in most/all sex acts, so as to be ready and not embarrass herself when the time comes. This is motivated in large part by an encounter with a gorgeous guitar player named Rusty Waters (Scott Porter), with whom she hopes to perform some of these acts. And the titular list isn’t anything so basic as “first base/second base/third base/home run,” but instead features rim jobs and pearl necklaces and motorboating and whatever else. (Note here that we are spared Dirty Sanchez being on the list.)

Ever since being introduced to her in 2009’s Funny People, I’ve been anxious for Plaza to get a film role that showcases her particular comedic talents, which are plenty. I don’t think last year’s undeservedly-lauded Safety Not Guaranteed was it, and while The To Do List is a little closer, I think her best comedic role is still in front of her. That said, not for nothing that Plaza was cast in The To Do List in the first place, which was a wise move on the part of the director/producers/casting director. The supporting cast is strong, too, and features a lot of people who should have bigger and better film careers than they currently do. Chief among them are Scott Pilgrim vs. the World’s Johnny Simmons as Brandy’s curious friend Cameron (young Neil can’t fingerbang Julie Powers! Gross!); Arrested Development’s Alia Shawkat as Brandy’s more experienced friend Fiona; and Community’s Donald Glover as Derrick, Brandy’s co-worker at a public pool, who gets the best line in the movie: “I got dumped because I suck dick at eating pussy.”

But the problem is that for every laugh like the above, there are a bunch of things that have been done before, and better. Yes, we’ve seen people eat poop in a comedy before (hello, Pink Flamingos? Jeez, even American Wedding had a poop-eating scene), which is made all the worse by Bill Hader’s character Willy exclaiming that he’s “never seen that before”—Willy, we’ve all seen that before, and a million times funnier and more shocking. There’s also the ever-popular pretty-girl-sucks-bomb-pop-to-suggest-oral-sex thing that we’ve seen multiple times just in the past year, in both Spring Breakers and Kate Upton on the cover of some magazine. Elsewhere are what may be homage or be rip-off, which either way don’t quite work: Is using “Laid” by James a nod to American Pie, or is it just laziness? And why is there what appears to be a direct reference to Jerry Maguire in a film set in 1993, when Jerry Maguire was released in 1996?

Which leads me to a final thought: I’ve been waiting for about five years for ’90s nostalgia to take hold, and so far it hasn’t. The To Do List is a serviceable movie (no pun intended) that is set in 1993—is this finally the break that ’90s nostalgia needs? | Pete Timmermann

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