The To Do List (2013)

Director: Maggie Carey

Starring: Aubrey Plaza, Bill Hader, Johnny Simmons, Alia Shawkat, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Scott Porter, Sarah Steele

From Idaho native (holla!) director, Maggie Carey, we get an outrageous and 90’s reference-filled teen comedy about a teenager living in Boise, Idaho (double holla!) on a mission to get as many sexual experiences fulfilled as she can before going off to college. Can you tell I’m excited about Idaho being featured in a film that isn’t Napoleon Dynamite??

Plot:  Brandy Klark (Plaza) is a straitlaced and strange teenager who has just graduated from high school, only to come to the realization that there is one topic that she doesn’t know everything about. Sex. She starts off her summer by making a list of things “to do” and starts a job at the local pool in order to become closer to her dreamy crush, Rusty Waters (Porter), and even finds an unlikely mentor in her boss (Hader). What unfolds is a ludicrous and hormone infested journey in which Brandy tries to tackle as many sexual related things possible.

Almost every review of this movie mentions the obvious comparison to the classic virgins-wanting-to-lose-their-virginity story that is American Pie. This time from a female perspective, this is a twist on that story that we haven’t really seen before in the movie world. Showing that girls can be just as dirty as Jason Biggs sticking his junk in an apple pie, this was the movie’s most interesting factor for me. And it’s actually really funny. I wasn’t really expecting this movie to be that funny, but I found myself pretty much constantly laughing. Along with all of that sexual humor that we all love, there are plenty of 90’s related humor tossed into the mix, including posters of Jeff Goldblum, mentions to Growing Pains, an awkward performance of “Wind Beneath My Wings”, and the awesome line of “Hurry up, I want to get home in time for Home Improvement”. 

The cast was great and Plaza is hilarious as our socially awkward lead. I can understand how her character is unlikable by some people, but this was a weakness in writing and not in Plaza’s performance. Her two best friends, played by Shawkat and Steele, are equally hilarious and Bill Hader’s presence was much appreciated. The To Do List also has some brief appearances of Andy Samberg and Christopher Mintz-Plasse. Samberg’s scenes were funny but I really thought they could have used Mintz-Plasse more. He is one of the most well known actors in the movie and is praised for his roles in comedies so I felt like they could have given him a better character but that was really just a small flaw I didn’t mind all that much while watching the movie.

The movie mostly relies on that shock factor of situations in order to provide humor. If you aren’t a fan of just plain outrageous and at times gross-out humor, then this probably isn’t the movie for you. Personally, I found that this aspect of the movie was what made me like it. It went beyond the expectations that you would usually have for a comedy with a female lead and that was what made it funny. Story wise, though, the movie was straight forward. There isn’t really a plot, we are just watching the character do sexual and awkward things one after another. There was a point in the movie where they tried to throw in a little bit of drama and actual plot, but it was brief and felt like an empty effort. The To Do List has an interesting premise and plenty of laughs, but that’s pretty much it.

In any other movie, this lack 0f story would be the film’s downfall, yet The To Do List’s likable cast, uniqueness, and even it’s setting of the early 90’s is what kept it alive for me. Carey definitely used the time period to her advantage and incorporated as much humor with it as possible. I was thoroughly entertained for the whole 104 minutes but I might be biased because of the references to Boise, such as a few of the characters working at Big Bun and the colors and appearance of the high school very closely resembling a local high school here. Just for anyone reading this, not all of Idaho looks like Napoleon Dynamite! Though a lot of it does…

Conclusion: The To Do List took me by surprise. I liked the aspect that it showed the awkward hormones phase through a female and also that there was plenty of crazy humor that you wouldn’t expect. However, the movie relied a little too much on the comedic side of the film and didn’t really provide any actual story, or any interesting one at least. The jokes might get old for some after the first half hour or so but the cast, especially Aubrey Plaza, Alia Shawkat, and Bill Hader, are what keep the movie interesting. Personally, this was definitely a welcome surprise for me as it’s a unique and charming relatively low-budget comedy that I wasn’t expecting.

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