From “Porkys to “American Pie” to “Superbad,” movies about youngsters trying to lose their virginity have seemed to strike a vein in pop culture. That trend continues in the new film “The To Do List” but with a small twist. Instead of the guy looking for that one loose girl the film follows a girl looking to become loose. The laughs are there, as is the raunch. But without an underlying sweetness to the main character, you may or may not care if she achieves her goal.
Brandy Klark (Plaza) is the valedictorian of her Boise, Idaho graduating class of 1993. Sure of herself to the point of being obnoxious, she goes as far as to write the principal’s opening notes of her introduction. But when someone yells “Get off the stage, Virgin,” she begins to contemplate the summer ahead of her, which will lead to her first year in college. Confiding in her best, and more experienced, friends Fiona (Alia Shawkat) and Wendy (Sarah Steele), Brandy begins to make a list of everything she’s ever heard of and hasn’t done, from her first French kiss to, well, let’s just say that three of her goals end in the word “job.”
The more I thought about why I didn’t fall in love with this film, which is obviously trying to be another “Bridesmaids,” the more the reason why hit me. This is writer/director Carey’s first fictional feature and she hasn’t gotten down the little things that extend a joke and add some talent behind it. It’s almost as if she thought that dirty language and over the top hijinx makes a film appreciable. It doesn’t.
Plaza does a fine job leading the cast. Besides her two friends she spends a lot of time with Cameron (Simmons) a fellow graduate and former lab partner who likes Brandy as more than a friend. As she begins crossing things off her list, Cameron unwittingly becomes her test dummy. Of course, these actions confuse him emotionally. Brandy has set her eyes on Rusty Waters (Scott Porter), the blonde and buffed, guitar-playing older boy she accidentally kisses at a party. A lot of her lusting takes place at the neighborhood pool, where Brandy has started work as a life guard. A lot of the fun happens here thanks to Bill Hader, who plays Willy, the non-swimming manager of said pool. Willy is the emotional equivalent of Bill Murray’s Carl Spackler in “Caddyshack” and is the highlight of every scene he’s in. The film is actually well cast from top to bottom. Plaza brings her deadpan comedic style that she uses in television’s “Parks and Recreation” to Brandy and does well. Also funny are Clark Gregg and Connie Britton, who play Brandy’s folks.
As for the raunch quotient, there are things done and discussed here that would make Jason Biggs violating a pie look like a scene out a Disney Channel special. Some of the gags (literally) are funny, but in my opinion director Carey needs to work on her timing. Many of the bits go on just a bit too long, turning something FUNNY into something less. The script is full of mid 1990s gags, from wanting to watch “Home Improvement” to Brandy’s obsession with Hillary Clinton. You also get to hear 2 Live Crew’s 1989 song “Me So Horny” in all its uncensored glory, which pretty much sets the tone for the next hour and a half.