by George Wolf
Fifteen minutes in, The To Do List has the feel of something assembled from one. That list must have been titled “teenage girl sex comedy,” with the filmmaker checking off the elements required to get her point across.
It is the debut feature for writer/director Maggie Carey, a TV and web series veteran. Twelve years ago, in one of her first credited projects, Carey directed Ladyporn, a documentary about making porn films that center on female sexual fulfillment.
Clearly, women’s sexuality in film is an issue close to her heart, which is justifiable, but The To Do List only proves weak sex comedies can go both ways.
It is the summer before college for uptight, brainiac Brandy (Aubrey Plaza), and meeting a hot older guy at a party prompts her to make a list of sexual acts she needs to experience before finally losing the V card.
Those acts, save for one scene of She Boppin‘, aren’t overly graphic, but the language gets down and dirty. That’s expected of a sex comedy, but alongside the cliched characters and their obvious situations, it all reaches a point of protesting too much, trying too hard to prove that a women’s point of view has been neglected in these types of films.
Not that Carey isn’t right, she is. But the best of the male centered “virgin” films, such as American Pie or Superbad, featured memorable characters that were at the very least funny and a bit unpredictable. The To Do List features none of that.
The film’s timing isn’t much help, either, as Brandy takes a lifeguard job at a pool with an older, unconventional boss (Bill Hader). That’s also a pivotal setting in The Way, Way Back, a far superior coming of age film that hit theaters just last week.
Maybe the biggest surprise is Plaza, fresh from her terrific breakout performance last year in Safety Not Guaranteed. She can’t seem to make Brandy much more than a caricature, but seeing the same fate befall the always solid Connie Britton and Clark Gregg (as Brandy’s parents) leads the trail right back to weaknesses in script and direction.
Pardon the pun, but Carey may have been trying too hard the first time.