Film Review: The To Do ListA sublimely entertaining female version of <i>American Pie</i>…and funnier than that entire franchise.
At long last, equal time has finally arrived for the ladies with The To Do List, which goes just as far as most male-oriented teen sex comedies, except its raunch and gross-out humor are actually funny and, yes, fully empowering.
The horny lass in question here is the tightly wound Brandy Klark (Aubrey Plaza), who, although valedictorian of her senior class, is completely ignorant when it comes to sex, being that somehow unaccountable thing…a virgin. During the summer before she sets sail to college, she resolves to do some real catch-up on all the messing around she’s missed while hitting the books, and actually makes a list of specific sexual acts she needs to get under her now-discarded chastity belt.
From the opening song, 2 Live Crew’s hysterical, brilliantly wrong classic, “Me So Horny,” writer-director Maggie Carey obviously knows what she’s doing, and delivers a supremely entertaining contemplation about cherry-popping that is as uproarious as it is all too often true. There’s a bracing, take-no-prisoners aspect to her script and helming—her women really roar—which signals a welcome, powerful feminine voice in the now aridly depleted, male-dominated arena of mall fare. She’s cleverly set her film in 1993, and it’s texturally rich with laugh-inducing references to humongous computers, pagers, dance crazes like “The Running Man” and especially that fashion-don’t known as the “skort,” which proves a particular impediment to giving anything up.
The presence of Carey’s talented husband Bill Hader in the cast and also as producer is a huge comic boon here. Hader plays the head lifeguard—a bullying, hard-partying fraud, and pretty heavenly in this actor’s slacker hands—at the public pool where Brandy finds summer employment, which proves to be the ideal, warm and intimate setting for horndog hijinks. Populated by a small army of deliciously pesky kids, as well as Brandy’s two charmingly abrasive BFFs (Sarah Steele and Alia Shawkat), it becomes the perfect little microcosm of suburban dreams (the hunky blond lifeguard, Rusty Waters, winningly played by Scott Porter) and nightmares (Brandy actually does a side-splitting reprise of that most infamous moment of Pink Flamingos that had the audience shrieking).
Pop-eyed, gangly Plaza has an all-out comedian’s courage, somehow recalling both Carole Lombard and a much more nubile Imogene Coca, and it’s to this actress’ great, great credit that her innate tasteful grace and poise keep this conceit from toppling over into mere offal, like the poop sequence in Bridesmaids. (Brandy’s approach to doffing her virginity may seem too clinical to be believed, but I recently had an actual conversation with two women friends in which one of them kept insisting that her boyfriend did not perform cunnilingus “the way the manual says how to do it.”) Plaza makes Brandy, with all of her pit- and pratfalls and small triumphs, one of the most memorable and unique screen heroines in years, like Hepburn’s Alice Adams and Alicia Silverstone’s Cher in Clueless, something of a classic.
The film also boasts the best comedy ensemble film work since Waiting and Horrible Bosses. Stunning Rachel Bilson gives a blooming, breakout screen performance as Brandy’s less smart but far too experienced, bitchy sister. Connie Britton and Clark Gregg are terrifically salty as Brandy’s hilariously mismatched parents. Johnny Simmons is adorable and quite touching as the requisite hapless geek hopelessly smitten by our heroine; he’s as ruthlessly exploited by Brandy (as are all the guys here) as any bimbo in any garden-variety teen romp, and you know what? It feels just great!