If you have only seen the poster and title for this movie, you’d think that The To Do List is nothing but some cheesy life lesson about throwing plans out the window and learning to live life on the wild side. The wild side part is right… the rest, not so much.
It’s 1993 and Brandy Clark is an extremely by-the-book bossy control-freak. She’s just graduated high school, given her valedictorian speech, and has a full ride to Georgetown University. When Brandy (Aubrey Plaza) sees Rusty Waters (Scott Porter) at an after-grad party, she breaks out of her shell, gets drunk, and ends up kissing him by accident. Never having felt anything sexually towards any guy before Rusty, and pressured to be more sexually experienced, Brandy decides to make a to-do list based on every new-found sexual tip she’s given.
So with every guy she meets or knows, she experiments with them and then crosses the deeds off her list as she moves towards her goal of having sex with Rusty. In the process, she makes a reputation for herself, hurts her friend Cameron (Johnny Simmons), who also has a crush on her, and gets sex advice from her friends (Sarah Steele and Alia Shawkat), mother (Connie Britton), and sister (Rachel Bilson). Her father (Clark Gregg) can only watch helplessly
The To Do List is clever in the fact that it takes an age-old topic like sex and turns it into this fun throwback to the ‘90s. Maggie Carey writes and directs a well-paced and ridiculously funny film. For her first feature film, Carey does a great job of keeping the film flowing and bringing to life memorable characters and great dialogue.
Aubrey Plaza’s expressions alone should be given an award. Her awkward wide-eyed stares can only be compared to a deer caught in headlights. She has wonderful comedic timing and her onscreen presence lights up the screen. We laugh with her, sometimes at her, and experience all her endeavors as she crosses the line into the realm of the sexually experienced. I look forward to seeing what films she does next.
Johnny Simmons’s character is easily and immediately reminiscent of Zack Morris. Simmons is melodramatically funny, crushing on Brandy, and is slightly angst-ridden (which is much more fun in the ‘90s!) Bill Hader takes the cake as the funniest character in the film though. His presence is endearing and his character is flustered, blunt, and protective without losing any of his humor.
The entire cast gets props. They all have incredible chemistry and they all play off each other extremely well. And while the film is all about sexual experimentation, it also delivers a message that we don’t hear very often and it’s not a conservative one, but an honest one. And while it does fly back and forth between its messages a bit, it’s still made generally clear.
Carey writes and directs a film that’s witty and funnier than it ought to be. The To Do List doesn’t take itself seriously and doesn’t get bogged down by its own story line. It’s a refreshing take on sex, combined with all the great things that make the ‘90s so memorable. The cast is great, the script well-written, and you’ll be laughing most of the way through.