The To-Do List review

For those who had been waiting the past few months for it to come to SLO, it’s finally here, and it isn’t worth seeing, much less waiting for. The To-Do List stars Aubrey Plaza as Brandy Klark, a naïve high school valedictorian who is encouraged by her friends, rebellious older sister Amber (Rachel Bilson), and even her mother (Connie Britton) to compile a checklist of sexual conquests to fulfill during the summer before her freshman year of college. On the side, she works for a water park uncannily similar to the one in The Way, Way Back for Willy (Bill Hader), an alcoholic homeless lifeguard who can’t swim and her ultimate desire, Hasselhoff wannabe Rusty Waters (Scott Porter), all while avoiding the advances of her former AP chemistry lab partner Cameron (Johnny Simmons) and the suspicions of her father George Klark (Clark Gregg), a no-nonsense Rush Limbaugh-reading judge who seems politically alienated from the rest of the family (even Brandy, who constantly uses minced oaths like “H-E-double hockey sticks,” quotes Hillary Clinton during her valedictorian speech and elsewhere wears a Democratic Party T-shirt). Each character is either undeveloped or unappealing, and both qualities could easily describe this movie. The fact that this film’s script was written (and rejected) back in 2010 is astounding, as it seems it hadn’t been revised at all in the past three years. Last summer’s Plaza vehicle, Safety Not Guaranteed, was far more developed than this, despite being based on a minimalistic Internet meme. But the inevitable comparisons to her other recent roles don’t end there.

Earlier this year, the Internet was treated to one of its countless tie-ins to nineties nostalgia, a faux trailer of a film adaptation of the cult animated sitcom Daria which starred Plaza in the titular role. That viral video was released during the production of The To-Do List, similarly set in 1993, which unlike the original Daria, fails to capture or even comprehend the 1990s on a more than superficial level. When you take out the out-of-style fashions, the bland parodies of iconic films like Jerry Maguire (which to paraphrase a quote from Austin Powers’ Dr. Evil, won’t be released for another four years), a soundtrack drenched in 2 Live Crew, Cranberries, and Spin Doctors, and an appearance by a vaguely grunge band, the decade is irrelevant. It’s just another vulgar third-rate comedy in the end, one whose spoofs of Caddyshack and The Graduate are just as cringe-worthy.

It is similarly fascinating that so many film critics peg The To-Do List as a “female American Pie” or a “female Superbad,” and a minor role by the latter film’s Christopher “McLovin” Mintz-Plasse as Cameron’s best friend Duffy helps solidify this. For a film that on a surface level (which to be fair, is about the only dimension this film has) attempts to seem feminist, the writers seem to flip-flop between developing Brandy Klark into a mature, independent woman whose admiration for Hillary Clinton is more than a sign of the times, and aping gross-out comedies with significantly less intellectually inclined male protagonists. It is more than appropriate that Brandy’s summary of her lessons learned throughout the film, “sometimes sex is a big deal but sometimes it isn’t” is so ambiguous, jumbled, and meaningless, because that’s exactly what The To-Do List is: an undecided mess.


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