Do you remember the summer of ’93? No worries if you don’t. Writer/director Maggie Carey takes a nostalgic look back at her teen years in Boise, Idaho. It’s a raunchy female-driven comedy. You have to respect her for tackling the male-dominated genre of movies like ‘Porky’s.’ Whether you embrace it or are repulsed by it depends on your tolerance for graphic sex jokes. For a first-time effort, Carey shows off her talent as a comedy writer. Unfortunately, the thin plot quickly loses steam. Some of the scenes are downright offensive and uncomfortable to watch. It’s certainly a departure from John Hughes’ romantic version of adolescence in such classics as ‘Sixteen Candles’ and ‘The Breakfast Club.’
Set in 1993 (pre-Internet era), Brandy Klark (Aubrey Plaza) is the straight-A valedictorian of her high school class. As she prepares a task list of things she needs to do before her freshman year of college, she realizes she is lacking in sexual experience. Her best friends Fiona (Alia Shawkat) and Wendy (Sarah Steele) warn her that going to college as a virgin will be disastrous. Not one to shy away from a challenge, Brandy compiles a list of sexual activities she wants to check off her to do list before the end of summer. Ultimately, her goal is to lose her virginity to Rusty Waters (Scott Porter). Why she chooses this surfer-looking bonehead is anyone’s guess.
Brandy gets a summer job at the Boise community pool as a lifeguard. Her slacker boss Willy (SNL’s Bill Hader and Carey’s real-life husband) spends way too much time hazing his new employee and making fun of her flat chest. Plaza is best known as an indie darling in offbeat comedies like ‘Safety Not Guaranteed.’ She has a deadpan delivery and excellent comedic timing. Although this script doesn’t give her much depth, it proves that she can handle a lead actress role in a feature film. It’s not that she isn’t funny… she is. It’s just that her adventures from one sexual act to another feel more like comedy sketches. There are some funny moments with her study buddy Cameron (Johnny Simmons). I won’t spoil one scene that takes place in a movie theater with popcorn butter. It’s hilarious. The problem is that her sexual conquests get less and less interesting as the story progresses.
The supporting cast makes ‘The To Do List’ watchable. Some of the bright spots are Brandy’s parents. Her uptight dad Judge Clark (Clark Gregg) and her sexually-liberated mother Mrs. Klark (Connie Britton) act like a real Boise couple. Mom looks conservative on the outside but is actually more hip to these issues than one would think. Dad believes in no sex until marriage. The parent’s opposite viewpoints actually complement each other. Brandy’s older and more sexually advanced sister Amber (Rachel Bilson) has her moments too. Although they fight like real sisters, she also takes on a mentoring role when Brandy is way too clueless. Brandy’s besties played by Alia Shawkat and Sarah Steele are a winning pair with a few touching moments as well.
Carey makes the right choices of pop culture nostalgia throughout the film. She makes references to everything from Tracey Gold, Wonderbras, Marky Mark, VHS tapes, grunge music and call-waiting. The Boise audience was chuckling through the movie while others were a bit shocked. This is the first movie that’s based in Idaho since ‘Napoleon Dynamite.’ But that film was actually shot in Idaho whereas ‘The To Do List’ was filmed in the San Fernando Valley. Carey proves that women can make a movie with vile humor as effectively as men. View it at your own risk.
‘The To Do List’ is now playing at Edwards Boise 22 Stadium and a theater near you. Check out the official trailer: http://youtu.be/UKGigK17eSs.