Brandy Klark (Aubrey Plaza – Safety Not Guaranteed) is an overachieving student who wants to achieve one more thing before she ships off to college – namely lose her virginity. So she meticulously researches the field and makes a to-do list of acts she feels she must do before she moves onto the next stage of her life. But looking at sex so cynically will have serious repercussions for not only Brandy, but her friends and future love interests too.
The To Do List should have joined the ranks of American Pie, Road Trip, Euro Trip and Sex Drive as a classic, bawdy teen comedy. Yet with all the ingredients at their disposal, they still managed to royally screw it up and that’s a massive shame. As a huge fan of the genre, this comes as a bitter disappointment given the stellar cast assembled and the obvious-win the film-makers were sitting on.
What makes films like American Pie and Road Trip work is the balance they adopt throughout the movie. They have gross-out comedy aplenty but it never defines their story – it merely adds a hilarious angle to a well thought out script and characters you actually care about. Instead, The To Do List thinks that it can leave characterisation at the door and rely on lazy gags and crude circumstance to carry it through. Compare this to the infinitely superior Sex Drive (a film that shares vaguely similar themes) and you will see the massive gulf in class. In fact, watch Sex Drive again instead of this, you’ll be glad you did.
The usually reliable Aubrey Plaza is seriously miscast here. She has a particular brand of comedy that works perfectly well in Safety Not Guaranteed and Parks & Recreation. But her character is so unlikable and implausible that she just feels like a caricature. You never feel for her and you certainly don’t want her to get her way. Throw in a ridiculous assumption that we as an audience buy into Rachel Bilson (from The OC ) as her older sister and you have a film that takes far too much for granted.
The supporting cast are fine but it’s the script that lets them down. So Connie Britton, Clark Gregg, Bill Hader (writer/director Maggie Carey’s husband), Johnny Simmons, Alia Shawkat and Andy Samberg are all wasted here. However it’s not all bad – the film does have an amazing 90’s soundtrack fuelled by classics from The Gin Blossoms, Elastica, Mazzy Star and James.
The To Do List is unimaginative and severely lacks any emotional core, something that makes this journey pointless and not worth taking. It’s a film that should have been a lot better given the talent involved, both in front of and behind the camera. Sadly it banks on crude jokes and a killer soundtrack being enough – and they certainly aren’t.