"The To Do List"
It’s nice to see a movie acknowledge that girls can have the same questing spirit as boys when it comes to seeking carnal knowledge and that their misadventures can be every bit as comically mortifying.
Even if the quest is being undertaken strictly for educational purposes.
After countless raunchy comedies — from “Porky’s” to “Superbad” — about teenage boys in a sweat to jettison their virginity, “The To Do List” scores with a fresh, female-centric take on the genre. Brandy Klark (Aubrey Plaza of NBC’s “Parks and Recreation” in a hilariously gung-ho performance) is the brainy, uptight valedictorian of her Idaho high school graduating class in 1993 and she has the record GPA to prove it. There’s one aspect of her education that’s been entirely overlooked, though, as Brandy realizes after reluctantly attending her first kegger, where she has a drunken, mistaken-identity make-out session with a hunky college dreamboat named Rusty Waters (Scott Porter) — and has absolutely no idea what she’s doing.
That’s enough to convince Brandy to replace her previous pre-college to-do list, which featured sensible stuff like buying shower shoes with a checklist of amorous activities that begins with necking and ends with losing her virginity.
It’s an exhaustive list that’s exhausting to contemplate, including several arcane items that sent a chagrined yours truly to urbandictionary.com for definitions. But Brandy works her way through it bit by bit, undeterred by occasionally humiliating mishaps, thanks to advice from her sexually hyperactive big sister (Rachel Bilson) and her slightly more experienced BFFs (Alia Shawkat and Sarah Steele). Mostly with the unwitting assistance of her geeky longtime pal Cameron (Johnny Simmons), who’s been crushing on her for years and can’t believe his luck. Until he finally figures out what’s going on.
“The To Do List” is the feature debut of Maggie Carey, who’s previously written and directed sitcoms and web comedies, and she goes to impressive lengths to make sure it’s at least as lewd as your average teen horndog comedy. It’s arguable that she even goes too far on a couple of occasions, going for unnecessarily gratuitous gross-outs. For the most part, though, this is a smart, witty, frequently funny film that feels surprisingly genuine, probably because it’s semi-autobiographical. In interviews, Carey has described herself as being a lot like Brandy during her high-school years — at least in the sense of being an academic overachiever who was clueless about boys.
As a result, Brandy comes across as a sympathetic and reasonably believable character, despite the outrageousness of what she’s up to. And “The To Do List,” for all its salaciousness, has a sweet quality (complete with a moral emphasizing the value of friendship and the comparative insignificance of sex for the sake of sex) that could almost pass for wholesomeness.