The To Do List (2013)
★ / ★★★★
When a movie is filled with so many people who can be—and have been—funny given the necessary material to elevate their talent, one cannot help but expect it to least have the requisite charm to keep us interested in the potential of the screenplay. I found this film repulsive, boring, and unfunny—a bottom-of-the-barrel would-be female empowerment picture with neither teeth nor spine to support a material that should have been entertaining since the basic elements that make up a competent sex comedy are present.
Brandy Klark (Aubrey Plaza) is the class of ’93 valedictorian and holds the record for having the highest grade point average who has ever attended the high school. Because of her tenacity and hard work, she was accepted to Georgetown University under full scholarship. Over the summer, she is to work at a local pool with Cameron (Johnny Simmons), her lab partner, and Rusty Waters (Scott Porter), a hunk she met at a graduation party while drunk. Though Brandy is an ace academic, she is completely inexperienced when it comes to sex. Not one to fall behind on anything, especially since her friends (Alia Shawkat, Sarah Steele) seem to have more experience with guys, she creates a checklist of sexual conquests she must achieve before heading off to college.
There is nothing cinematic about the “The To Do List.” Though the story takes place in 1993, the film is neither smart nor vibrant enough to communicate why that year is particularly special. The setting could have been in the late-‘80s or mid-‘90s and it would not have made any difference. We see posters of popular bands hanging on bedroom walls and hear chart-topping songs at the time, but there is no feeling or importance behind them.
In addition, the scenes are poorly photographed, a bore to look at, and almost sitcom-like in its approach to get us to laugh. It offers nothing but a series of forced sketches and by the end of each we are handed a freeze frame and checkmark. For a story involving teenagers and sex, it is inappropriately mechanical. Effective teenage comedies command a certain level of reckless abandon despite their subjects being outcasts or members of the popular crowd. The experience of watching this film is akin to observing a fish gasping for air—not the part where it flops around but when it has given up and just waiting to die.
A major misstep of the screenplay is not allowing us to care for our protagonist on a deeper level. She is supposed to be very smart but we are not given a chance to measure exactly how sharp she is. While I understood that the character was supposed to convey a blind determination to complete her list, if she were really as smart as the material claimed, the ramifications of her actions should have occurred to her much faster—either on an emotional level or via sheer calculation in terms of where she stands in a sudden shifting relationship. I did not expect for her to be emotionally intelligent but I expected her to respond like a real person—another key ingredient of a good teenage comedy.
Written and directed by Maggie Carey, “The To Do List” tries so hard to be funny by delivering raunchiness but it is so poorly executed that those cheesy after school specials are actually more entertaining. It is so lazy, so unambitious that there is a running “joke” about Plaza’s character constantly losing her top when she gets into the water. Plaza and Simmons, two of whom I find very charming, can do so much better than this ordure.