The To Do List
Summer wouldn’t be complete without at least one good raunchy, gross out comedy to heat up cineplexes. "The Hangover 3" failed to take the title earlier this summer. Now, "The To Do List" is trying to take the raunchy comedy crown, but it might be too watered down for most modern day audiences.
Brandy (Aubrey Plaza, "Parks and Recreation") is the valedictorian of her 1993 high school graduating class and has everything already figured out as she heads off to Georgetown in the fall. Everything, that is, until she is urged by her two best friends and older sister (Rachel Bilson) to not leave for college while still a virgin. Heeding their advice she spends her summer checking off various sex acts from her’ to do’ list, in hopes of attaining her ultimate goal - having sex with mega hunk Rusty Waters (Scott Porter, "Hart of Dixie").
Everything starts out fine for Brandy, and the audience, but things quickly begin to falter. Writer and first time feature director Maggie Carey has created a script with so many problems that it is a wonder she was able to attract so many well-known actors to take part. At first, the time capsule setting seems fun, but by the end it feels like more of a gimmick to try to wring laughs from the ’90s fashions, innocence and dreadful dance moves. Setting a film 20 years in the past and making pop culture references about "Growing Pains" and The Grateful Dead might go over the heads of some of the younger viewers who weren’t even born yet. Some of the older viewers will probably miss a joke or two as well, because the 90s weren’t as outrageous and visually exciting as the decade that preceded them.
Carey treats the characters more as stereotypes than actual people. With so many other gimmicks at play in the movie, it feels lazy to not flesh out her characters. It also harms the film because there aren’t any characters worth getting emotionally attached to. These stereotypes do lend themselves to easy laughs. But if Carey’s aim is cheap laughs, then she should be hitting a home run each time. Unfortunately, many of the jokes fall flat or barely elicit a chuckle.
Working from her own script, the first time director suffers from having too much movie here. With tangential subplots, the film ends up dragging in too many places. Part of this is because there are also too many characters that she is trying to service. Tightening up the script and zeroing in on the exact story she wanted to tell would have helped the film overall and made for a better third act, which ends up all over the place as it attempts to tie up all the loose ends.
While it’s always fun to see a cast of familiar faces, where literally almost every actor is recognizable, it also takes away from the movie. Had it been cast with relatively unknown actors, like the original "American Pie," the chance for nudity or more outrageous behavior would have been higher. Being that the cast is already known and have successful television careers to worry about, they are going to play it safe. With the subject matter that "The To Do List" is dealing, it’s hard to be satisfying to the audience when your entire cast is playing it safe. Much of the action that Brandy gets ends up obscured by set dressing or happenings off screen.
Many of the actors included in the film are known for their comedic skills, from sitcoms or "Saturday Night Live." But Bilson, as Brandy’s older, more experienced sister, is able to shine in a new light for what she is typically known. Despite going toe-to-toe with comedians Bill Hader and Aubrey Plaza, Bilson is able to steal many of her scenes.
"The To Do List" wants to be a throwback to the old coming of age sex comedies. There are definitely enough references and homages throughout, but the material is handled too gingerly. While the topic being discussed is R-rated, the way it is handled throughout the film is definitely more PG-13. Despite its title, this is one movie you don’t have to add to your weekend ’to do’ list.