There are sex comedies and there are sex comedies. Then there is The To Do List. Just when we were becoming secure with the knowledge that we have seen every type of crude R-rated comedy under the sun and the only saving grace left was putting these foul-mouthed characters in meta-apocalypses, along comes a simple story about a girl who wants to lose her virginity after high school graduation. And she will do it with the most calmly premeditated depravity possible. The To Do List is a lusty laugher determined to please you with more gags than an S&M orgy. And each one will leave you choking with glee.
Brandy (Aubrey Plaza) has just graduated from her high school as Valedictorian of 1993. The only thing on her mind is going to college and staying buttoned up like her dad (Clark Gregg) wants. But when her BFFs (Alia Shawkat and Sarah Steele) take her to a graduation party, she finds herself drunk and accidentally making out with local six-pack stud Rusty Waters (Scott Porter). Halfway through taking her shirt off, he realizes that she is not the girl he came to bang and, worse, that she is a virgin. Undaunted, Brandy valiantly understands that she needs to tackle getting rid of the V-Card like preparing for an exam. She will have Rusty Waters by the end of the summer and she will get there by cramming with every oral and dexterity test she has heard of.
The majority of the movie consists of Brandy using various people to help her achieve the mission. Amber (Rachel Bilson) is a worldly older sister who will occasionally explain the intricacies of hand jobs to Brandy between viscous barbs. Her summer job as a life guard at the pool puts her in constant proximity of Rusty, as well as a slew of potential boy toy study partners, including childhood friend Cameron (Johnny Simmons) and his pals (Donald Glover and Christopher Mintz-Plasse). Hell, even Connie Britton’s caring mother helps out by supplying an ample amount of lube. With all this experimenting, Brandy will hopefully realize half the words on her list should never be uttered aloud.
Filthy sex comedies involving teenagers (played by 20-somethings) goes back to at least Animal House. Yet, for all the gross-out laughter audiences have had over the decades, be it with Stifler or McLovin, the one consistent is that it is always about the boys. Females in these movies are at best the girls next door waiting patiently for the hero to wisen up or at worst the harlots down the street yearning to take their clothes off for a pillow fight. What makes The To Do List so good is that the women finally get in on the action without having to be slut shamed. Of course that happens too, but Brandy just bounces back by checking another box off her list.
Written and directed by Maggie Carey, wife of funnyman Bill Hader, The To Do List feels like a very personal film. Before the screening I attended, she proudly explained that this film is based on how she gave her first hand job. But what she is really doing is proving that young and demure girls can be as filthy as any members of the Apatow Crew. Carey is also given a major assist by Aubrey Plaza.
Prior to this picture, I had only seen Plaza in passing. She was the rigid Scott Pilgrim-hater in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and stole a few scenes in Funny People. But here, she leaves her mark as a comedic force not to be trifled with (though it’s open to fooling around). Her deadpan delivery and no-nonsense demeanor makes Brandy imminently lovable even when she is doing awful things like dry humping one of her best friend’s exes or taking a rock singer 15 years her senior to the pool. “What were you trying to do, Brandy,” her boss demands after finding her in the shower with the rocker. “Swallow, if you hadn’t interrupted.” When she puts it that way, it seems adorable.
Of course, Plaza’s star-making turn is supported by an all-star cast. In the role of that concerned boss is SNL vet Hader. Hader’s Willy is the kind of dead-eyed, sad sack who lives in the pool house he runs, but is still nothing less than a scene-stealer who treats Brandy like one of the guys. Fellow SNL Alum Andy Samberg also gets a few great moments as the pervy rocker whose pool time with Brandy just makes him one in a long line of checked-off conquests in her trapper keeper. None of the male stars get too much screen time, save for Simmons as hopelessly earnest Cameron, but they all add to the comedic payload of the film. Also, I don’t know where Rachel Bilson has been the last five years, but she needs to be in more comedies ASAP. Her scenes with Plaza have all the warm fuzzy feeling of a leather whip. And I mean that as a compliment.
At the end of the day, the progressivism is nice, but the comedy works because the jokes come fast and often. Carey makes use of being one of the first filmmakers to tap into ‘90s nostalgia and sets her scenes to cool rhythms of Marky Mark’s “Good Vibrations” and the Cranberries’ “Dreams.” Yes, there was a time when Mark Wahlberg was a “rapper” (the quotation marks are essential). This reviewer realizes he is getting old when these nostalgic films start covering things I remember, even if it was elementary school. Donald Glover’s taxi cab-yellow overalls are a character unto themselves. The retro setting also can excuse Brandy’s ignorance to terms like “rim job” and “connulingus.” Not knowing about sexual terms? How quaint, says we desensitized millennial post-Internet deviants.
Yet, most of the guffaws are simply from the bluntness with which Plaza and company discuss, show and mock sex. The To Do List is one of the best comedies of the year and one that may surprise just how easily it keeps the laughs in you coming.
Den of Geek Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Stars