Aubrey Plaza, Bill Hader, Alia Shawkat, Johnny Simmons, Andy Samberg, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Sarah Steele, Clark Gregg, Donald Glover
WRITTEN AND DIRECTED BY
"The To Do List" Works Despite Itself
While a coming-of-age film seems like quite a bit of a stretch for 29-year-old indie darling Aubrey Plaza, she's more than up to the task in the feature film debut of writer/director Maggie Carey, a TV and web series veteran making quite the assured and entertaining move into film here.
There's definitely a bit of suspended belief required here, most notably that awkward fact that even at her most virginally awkward Plaza for the most part does look like a 29-year-old trying to play a recent high school grad. That said, Plaza embodies her character with just about everything this character needs and if you give yourself to the film you're likely to have yourself a raunchy and rather hilarious time.
Plaza plays Brandy, the valedictorian of her 1993 Boise high school class facing the prospect of entering college being decidedly inexperienced in just about everything but academics. Humiliated for her obviously goody two shoes ways, Brandy becomes determined to gain "experience" before she enters college after an initial baptism by fire at her first college party that leads to a drunken make-out session with hottie Rusty (Scott Porter).
With the support of her BFF's Wendy (Sarah Steele) and Fiona (Alia Shawkat), Brandy makes, you guessed it, a to-do list to accomplish before she begins her freshman year. Of course, we all know that there will be a whole lotta twists and turns along the way including the introduction of those messy things called emotions. As her rather smitten chem lab partner, Johnny Simmons gives the film a nice emotional resonance while Scott Porter makes Rusty a lot more than just another hottie. While Bill Hader can play the quirky adult in his sleep, as Brandy's boss at the local pool he's a perfect mixture of humorous and vulnerability all rolled into one.
While this could have easily become nothing more than your typical throwaway teen sex comedy, Carey and her cast do a terrific job of rising above any potential one-note tendencies and manage to turn the film into a frequently funny, fairly intelligent and rather sensitive film that is still a more female-centered raunchfest and cousin to a film like Bridesmaids. Watching Brandy get advice from her far more experienced younger sister Amber (Rachel Bilson) is a hoot, while Connie Britton hits all the right notes as Brandy's well meaning mom. Both Sarah Steele and Alia Shawkat are under-appreciated actresses and they both get a chance to shine as Brandy's two best friends who are more than willing to help relieve her of this particular burden of hers.
Carey's script is a mostly spot-on mixture of raunchy and sweetness, though there are moments when everything gets a tad meanspirited in a way that feels out of place. Carey's knack for visual humor is on display here, and she's clearly constructed the film in a way that really allows Plaza to shine.
The To Do List isn't a flawless film by any means, but it's an entertaining one that should fit the bill for anyone looking for a more adult-flavored comedy rather than, yawn, yet another superhero flick. This isn't exactly the vehicle I'd have picked for Aubrey Plaza, but proving her immense talent once again she makes it work even when you think it can't possibly do so.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic