The To Do List (3 1/2 out of 5 Stars)
Directed and Written by: Maggie Carey
Starring: Aubrey Plaza, Johnny Simmons, Alia Shawkat, Scott Porter, Bill Hader, Connie Britton, and Clark Gregg
I couldn't help but have the Icona Pop lyric "But I'm a 90s bitch" playing in my head after I walked out the screening for the film The to Do List. I was 9 in 1993, but I remember all the the things made the 90s such interesting, but odd decade. The last remaining gasps of the yuppies paved way for 90210, trapper keepers, and the birth of the next political dynasty the Clintons.
Hillary Clinton is a major influence to Valedictorian Brandy Klark (Plaza). On graduation day as she attempts to give her speech, the crowd yells out virgin she pauses, and the wholesome Brandy is escorted to the side. As Brandy is driving off with her best friends Fiona (Shawkat) and Wendy (Sarah Steele) they divert from going a wholesome after graduation part and end up heading to a keg party. Brandy is ready to go right away; she has made her lists in preparation for her time at Georgetown, but she is soon entranced by college boy Rusty Waters (Porter). Brandy's wholesome demeanor slips away as she dives into inebriation. While drunk she mistakenly ends up making out with Rusty, and soon after the party ends she decides rather than prep for her new year at college she is going to embark on a journey of sexual exploration.
Creating a film about female sexual exploration is rare in the film world, most films about teenage sexual exploration show the women as the object of the hunt. Films like American Pie, Fast Time's at Ridgemont High or Porky's play a big role in within this genre. These films and many others were at the forefront films about teenagers, and sex. Back in 2010 Easy A helped break through this wall with mild success in theatres, and strong success after the dust was settled and the DVD released. The late 90s and 2000s saw a rise in strong female led teenage films, like Bring it On, Pitch Perfect, and of course Mean Girls. Maggie Carey expands the female vantage point in new ways with her film using the more typical guy horn dog mentality with a woman. I think this a great way to show a diverse perspective using gender.
Carey has not had much experience within the television world; she has only worked on a few shows, and this is her first feature film. Carey's film is smart in the way it explores sexual encounters for both genders, and I appreciate the lens she uses. Carey has some sharp witty moments for many of the characters, her 90s jokes are great. I think my favorite is a reference to the way Tracy Gold dressed on Growing Pains. Carey is good at the one liners, my guess is that her experience with Funny or Die. On the other hand Carey's lack of focused work in even a variety of sitcoms, and film, and only in the Funny or Die venue lends to some holes or gaps in the script which create moments where the film lags and falls flat.
While the script has its flaws, these flaws are ironed over with this terrific ensemble led brilliantly by Aubrey Plaza. Plaza finally steps outside of her acting comfort zone and is no longer the morose teen/person, but rather she embarks on this new person with Brandy. Plaza's comedic timing is still there but in a new form, she takes all of the achievements she has made within her work in numerous films, and Parks and Recreation, and shows us "Who's the Boss" (a great 90s reference. Plaza tackles naive well, and transforms at the same pace with which Brandy grows as a character.
Plaza is of course joined by many great actors in this cast who elevate the comedy, Hader is great as the pool manager/bum. Sawkat and Steele are hilarious as Brandy's two slutty best friends, and I love Wendy's obsession with Beaches. While many of the side players in Brandy's life were hilarious, I found her family the funniest, especially her sexually experienced mother played by Connie Britton, and her uptight Rush Limbaugh loving father played by the great Clark Gregg.
While Carey's script is not the strongest, the film is still funny, and a great inventive new format at looking at girls exploring their sexuality. Plaza is terrific, and along with the emsemble this film is some thing you should ad to your 'To Do List' this summer.