Unreal Movie Review: The To Do List

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Teenage boys on a quest to get laid has been the concept of many an R-rated sex romp over the years. Now, at long last, someone is trying to flip the script.

The To Do list stars Aubrey Plaza as Brandy, a straight-laced valedictorian who decides she needs to treat her non-existent sex life like she does her studies. Before she heads off to college,  she gives herself homework by creating the titular list of nearly every sex act imaginable, all leading up to a big dream finale where she loses her V-card to the hottest guy in town, Rusty Waters (Scott Porter).

Helping her along the way are her more promiscuous friends, Fiona (Alia Shawkat) and Wendy (Sarah Steele), her older, more attractive sister Amber (Rachel Bilson) and her surprisingly understanding mother (Connie Britton), much to the dismay of her father (Clark Gregg).

As you might expect, going on a quest to be as promiscuous as possible is likely to lead to a few complications, and Brandy must weather to storm of judgment from her family, friends and boys that would actually like to date, her, not just screw her. That would be her friend and lab partner Cameron (Johnny Simmons), whom Brandy uses to check a few early items off her list, but doesn’t particularly have the same affection for him that he does for her.

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It’s vaguely reminiscent of another somewhat recent film, Easy A, which starred Emma Stone as a girl who goes around school pretending to bed nerdy guys so they can build up their reputation. Here, Brandy has no such noble motives, and though the ensuing fallout of each girl’s quest is similar, they’re very different types of films.

The To Do list has an odd, sometimes off-putting sense of humor. The entire film is set in the ’90s for apparently no other reason than the ’90s are funny. The fashion makes everyone look absolutely ridiculous at all times, while the references are always crowd pleasers (“Hurry up Brandy, I don’t want to miss Home Improvement!”).

But in attempting to apparently out-vulgarize other movies in the genre starring boys, the film takes things way too far at times. Thinking her boss at the local pool (a scene-stealing Bill Hader) is playing a first-day trick on her, Brandy picks up a piece of floating poop and takes a bite out of it only to discover it is not, in fact, a Milky Way. Later, Brandy checks “hand job” off her list with Cameron in a movie theater, and afterward the camera zooms in on her hand where we’re treated to the sticky results.

There are bits other than these that work. Hader probably has the best lines in the film, while the dynamic between Brandy and her sister is believable and often pretty funny. But it does say something about your film when the biggest laugh it gets is when someone gets caught in their seatbelt getting out of their car. Generally, you’ll alternate between a cautious grin and a severe cringe, as there are very few laugh out loud moments to be found.

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The main problem of the film is Brandy herself, who just isn’t a likable character. She’s so emotionless, it borders on apparent autism, which would account for the fact that she’s not able to understand how anyone else’s feelings are getting hurt during her sex quest. It’s not the fact that she’s being so promiscuous that’s the issue, it’s just that when she’s doing things like blowing the lead singer of a band when she’s supposed to be on a date with Cameron, or hooking up with a guy that her friend Wendy specifically said she liked, she’s just really hard to empathize with. She’s just a jerk. By the end of the film, even after all the apologies, it’s a miracle anyone still wants to speak to her. And it’s not really a problem with Plaza’s acting, it’s just how the character was written.

The film grasps at dramatic straws near the end with some sort of vague lesson about how “sex is important, but it isn’t.” But since Brandy is incapable of forming an emotional attachment with another human being for the duration of the film, none of the drama really rings true.

The To Do list is a strange film. I’m glad someone made the attempt to have female-led comedy be an R-rated sex romp, but it’s more uncomfortable than funny, and the laughs at ’90s references should almost be considered comedic cheating. Perhaps there’s a way to do a movie like this right, but this one is ultimately a miss.

2 out of 5 stars

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  1. I got the feeling that the only reason the movie was set in the 90’s was so that she couldn’t just look up videos of the all the sex things she didn’t know about.

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