The To Do List Review: Let’s Talk About Sex

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Writer-director Maggie Carey’s feature debut tackles the complex subject of female sexuality with lighthearted ease, making for an enjoyably  raunchy summer comedy.

Parks and Recreation‘s Aubrey Plaza stars as Brandy Klark, a hyper-organized, overachiever who is the valedictorian of her high school class in 1993.  Before she heads off to Georgetown, she decides to forgo her to do list of planning and packing and opts for another kind of checklist instead.  You see, one night, when her two friends drag her to a college kegger, Brandy meets Rusty Waters (Friday Night Lights‘ Scott Porter).  The two have a hilariously awkward drunken encounter and, for the first time in her life, Brandy realizes she doesn’t know what to do.  So, like any star student, she decides to do some studying.

The rest of the film follows Brandy on her quest to conquest over her lack of sexual experience.  What unfolds is a series of awkward, outrageous, and ultimately hysterical hookup scenes as she seeks to become master of her domain.  The cast is filled with TV and movie favorites who are there to either help or hinder Brandy in her various…um…activities.  There’s Arrested Development‘s Alia Shawkat as one of her best friends, Saturday Night Live‘s Bill Hader as the aloof manager of the pool where she works for the summer, and Connie Britton and Clark Gregg as her kooky parents.

The impressive ensemble cast makes for some greatly funny scenes, but this is truly Plaza’s movie.  Brandy is miles away from the dark, sarcastic April whom she plays on Parks.  Here she is much more earnest and heartfelt.  And yet, there are still parts of the actress’ signature style that shine through.  Her expressive eyes pop to convey a variety of emotions, and you can hear the hot-tempered confidence in her voice when she speaks.  Brandy’s girl-takes-charge story is far from original, but she’s definitely more fierce and determined than her counterparts in films like CluelessEasy A and 10 Things I Hate About You.

One of the best things about The To Do List–besides all the awesome 90s nostalgia–is how it subverts basic expectations of the genre.  It has all the makings of a typical teen rom-com.  There’s the virginal heroine, her enabling, sexually experienced friends, the hunky bad boy, and the guy best friend who clearly wants something more.  Still, the movie raises itself above most of the clichés and doesn’t exactly go down the path you think it would.  The overall message, that sex both is and isn’t a big deal, is nothing new, but here it feels very refreshing.  Grade: B+


By Mike Papirmeister

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