It’s hard to deny writer/director Maggie Carey’s The To-Do List stands out not only from its competition at the box office, but also from others in the “losing-it” genre. The film is one of the first pro-sex sex comedies that doesn’t sneak-in the syrupy message of sex being for the “right person,” amid jokes about bodily fluids, excrement and slang. This credit is due entirely to the films central character Brandy Klark (Aubrey Plaza) being the most three dimensional character in the genre since Steve Carrell in Apatow’s The 40-Year-Old Virgin. Like Carrell, Plaza gives a performance to back up the writing as she attempts to cram four years of sexual experience into one summer.
The films greatest strength is in the way her character melds perfectly with the premise while easing into any issues with the gender twist on the genre. Klark’s Type-A personality and impeccable scholastic skills allow her to prepare for her journey the same way she would for one of her many AP tests – on all of which she got a perfect score – work her way up to losing her virginity to the guitar toting head life guard Rusty Waters (Scott Porter). Thankfully, neither Rusty nor any of her other marks turn out to be jerks in the way they are in Easy A – even if it is a better film. They’re sex-driven like any young adult but never to the point it makes them a bad person.
Unfortunately, the full lead characters don’t take away from rest of the film which is a run-of-the-mill sex comedy. We have seen the aforementioned gags – particularly the gross-out moments – in other films and while those might not be up to the level of To Do List and makes the sum of all that’s hear weaker than its individual strengths.
Among these is the use of the setting. I assume this won’t be the last 1990s but hopefully a few of them improve reach the mastery of the era as Adventureland did with the 1980’s. What we get here is best summed up in the opening credits which by themselves are effective, but is otherwise ripped from any given Buzzfeed list, highlighting Pearl Jam posters, Liz Frank binders and mix tapes. The film is peppered with other nineties trinkets that are end to themselves rather than serving the story or any of its characters.
While Klark doesn’t need any support, some of the smaller characters need all the help they can get. Brandy’s parents are played by the usually excellent Connie Britton and Clark Gregg and while the give their characters everything in their arsenal, the characters fail to deliver on their moments. I suspect Carey means Brandy’s father to be a role reversal on women’s portrayal in male oriented comedies but it would be better if Britton’s character was as well-rounder as her on-screen daughter. Unfortunately this lack of balance do hurts the impact of her one-on-one moments with Brandy.
This lack of focus in the film surrounding Brandy comes through strongest in the film’s final gag. I don’t want to go into too much detail but the punch line has some problematic implications that fall more in line with the plot of the 70’s adult classic Deep Throat than the feminist pro-sex nature of the rest of the film.
I suspect The To Do List will join its predecessors in the ranks of premium cable rotation and home video to find its audience – it will have to since it’s already out of most theaters. Those interested should seek it out if only for Plaza’s character and performance as well to see what is hopefully just the beginning of the pro-sex sex comedy. I’m equally hopeful that those future films will improve on it.