A nerdy high school senior decides to apply her ample scholastic skills to a new project — becoming sexually savvy before heading off to college in The To Do List.
Brandy Klark (Aubrey Plaza) is everything most parents dream about. She’s smart, dedicated, problem-free and a virgin. She’s even earned the distinction of class valedictorian. What’s not to like? There’s just one problem: college is a whole new world filled with social expectations and pressures she knows absolutely nothing about — most notably, sex. That’s just not acceptable, so she attacks it just like any other assignment. She constructs a comprehensive to do list of every sexual experience she’s heard of with the goal of checking them all off one by one.
The story takes place in 1993 before the dawn of the Internet and sites like Wikipedia. That further complicates matters because Brandy will have to do her own research on unfamiliar terms like “rim job” and “motorboat.” Limited help is available from her caring mom (Connie Britton) and her sexually aware (but academically challenged) older sister (Rachel Bilson). Willing men, of course, are always available — most notably at the local community pool where Brandy’s working as a lifeguard for the summer.
It all sounds like a wonderful recipe for a winning coming-of-age comedy with the nice twist of being told from the girl’s perspective for a change. Unfortunately, this is one to-do list that seems to have skipped a few key entries of its own. Writer/director Maggie Carey relies almost entirely on a single approach to provide all the energy: take a social taboo, write it down, discuss it, perform it and repeat. That’s almost all there is. It’s funny at times, but more often than not, it’s just unnecessarily crude and often overly graphic. There’s even a hint of eroticism that makes you feel uncomfortable. Writing that, I realize there’s almost no way to explain it without sounding prudish, but that’s just not the case. It’s like a horror film that relies on the cheap trick of having someone jump out of the shadows. The “hair gel” in Something About Mary is funny, but here the joke is simply showing semen on Brandy’s hand after a hand job.
It doesn’t help that none of the characters have any depth or, in key cases, basic believability. Plaza herself is hard to accept in the main role as an undesirable, bookish social misfit. Added to all of this are some of the most awkward lines of recent memory. Then there’s the big morality moment that the script drops on the audience like an atom bomb in the unlikely event we might miss it.
It does sport a solid ’90s soundtrack and some really creative opening credits along with a few good laughs, but ultimately, it’s as flat as the paper the list is written on. The Way, Way Back is a very similar film done significantly better.