The teenage college coming of age sex comedy is without a doubt a well travelled genre. Opening today, “The To Do List” goes down some of that well traveled comedic road that might hit a little harder for any child of the 1990’s or Snackwell’s aficionado then it would for most and while it has some moments it’s more an example of moments that get flat out missed.
Set in 1993, valedictorian Brandy Klark (Aubrey Plaza) wants to shed her uptight image before college, so she assembles a to do list of all the “activities” she missed out on in high school. Quickly realizing that she’s way out of her depth, Brandy solicits her best friends (Alia Shawkat, Sarah Steele, Donald Glover, Christopher Mintz-Plasse and Johnny Simmons), older sister (Rachel Bilson) and burnt-out boss (Bill Hader) for their help and advice. If the group is going to complete the list by September they’ll need plenty of imagination and very open minds.
The feature debut from writer/director Maggie Carey, this loosely inspired tale of the early years of her own sexual misadventures isn’t without some funny moments, but it is mostly an uninspired mess of a film that is rife with missed opportunities. The narrative drags out far too long as it leans on Porky’s style jokes that are very hit and miss, while some obvious pop culture gags get left by the way side. It tries to start the film by making a concerted effort to put us into 1993 but the film never commits to it, and it could have been set anywhere. The dialogue ranges from occasionally funny, to downright corny and hackneyed, the film only tries to be a period piece in the most tired ways possible and with poor dialogue and fleshed out characters, the actors just don’t have a lot to work with in order to elevate the material.
Aubrey Plaza is working as hard as humanly possible to make this material work as the film doesn’t really have the charm of her first leading effort in “Safety Not Guaranteed”. She pulls of the oddly confident yet sexually unaware teen heading the college well enough, but the film goes on a little too long and her performance feels forced more than once. There’s a loaded ensemble cast featuring the likes of Clark Gregg, Alia Shawkat, Bill Hader, Sarah Steele, Connie Britton, Christopher-Mintz Plasse and Donald Glover but none of them really get a chance to shine as the script wastes them all to varying degrees. Only Rachel Bilson as the older and sexually wiser sister gets some moments to shine when the rest of the supporting characters just feel tired.
At the end of the day, “The To Do List” does generate a couple of laughs, but with a cast of this pedigree it’s hard to ignore all the genuinely original and witty moments that just get glossed over and missed.
2 out of 5 stars.
“The To Do List” is now playing in theatres across the country, check with your local listings for show times.
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