The To Do List wants to be American Pie for girls—it’s even set in the ’90s—but writer-director Maggie Carey’s comedy isn’t nearly as raunchy as it claims. With many of the wittiest bits already spoiled in the red-band trailer, her R-rated comedy is met more often with “heh” than “oh no she didn’t!”
The premise is funny enough: Uptight high-school valedictorian Brandy Klark (Aubrey Plaza) decides to catch up on all the sexual experience she missed out on while competing as a mathlete, editing the school paper and self-publishing a magazine called Womyn before she goes to college by doing—what else?—homework. She makes the eponymous to-do list (Brandy wouldn’t stand for the incorrectly punctuated title of her own movie), including such sexual milestones as fingering, hand job, blow job, etc.—all neatly tabulated in a multicolored grid in her Trapper Keeper. Writer-director Maggie Carey, who loosely based her first feature on her real-life misadventures, cleverly sets her nostalgic flick in 1993, when kids still had to find out about this stuff from their friends rather than Google.
But as brilliantly dry as she is on Parks and Recreation and the fake Daria the Movie trailer that just hit the web, Plaza is 29 years old, not 18—she just doesn’t look the part. (By contrast, all of the American Pie guys were in their late teens or early 20s when their movie came out.) So when Brandy and, to a lesser extent, her friends Fiona and Wendy (Alia Shawkat and Sarah Steele, both 24) talk about pearl necklaces, it’s like Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte and Miranda gossiping about sex, not teens. Sans nudity and explicit acts, The To Do List’s greatest claim to its R rating is coarse language, spoken by grown-ass adults.
There are bright spots: Carey’s husband Bill Hader is enjoyable, as always, as Brandy’s stoner boss at the pool who develops protective feelings for her and her friends. And Clark Gregg is wonderfully awkward as her conservative dad dealing with a daughter who’s a little too honest and a wife (the luminous Connie Britton) who’s a little too permissive. (That he’s also a judge is a convenient, though undeveloped, character trait that Brandy tosses around to demonstrate just how badly she’s behaving.) Also, Fiona calls Brandy “Pancake,” which is just about the sweetest nickname for a BFF ever.
Though not subtle, a nice thread of feminism weaves its way into the plot, with Brandy quoting Irina Dunn at her tarty sister, Amber (Rachel Bilson)—“a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle!” Brandy may underestimate the emotional consequences of approaching sex with a checklist, but she doesn’t experience any regrets, either—other than violating the “sisters before misters” code.
The To Do List is refreshingly by women, about women, for women. It’s just a shame it doesn’t go all the way.
Director: Maggie Carey
Writer: Maggie Carey
Starring: Aubrey Plaza, Johnny Simmons, Bill Hader, Alia Shawkat, Sarah Steele, Scott Porter, Rachel Bilson, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Andy Samberg, Donald Glover, Connie Britton, Clark Gregg
Release Date: July 26, 2013