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Wednesday
Jul242013

Movie Review: 'The To Do List'

The To Do List

Starring Aubrey Plaza, Bill Hader, Alia Shawkat, Rachel Bilson
Directed by Maggie Carey
Rated R

By and large, the teen sex comedy is centered on a male character.  It’s been that way since teen sex comedies have been a thing in Hollywood.  And while most teen sex comedies all follow the same path when it comes to the storyline & jokes, the thing that really separates the good from the bad is the development of the main (and ancillary) characters.   I guess you could say that about other genre type movies but when it comes to sex, it’s all about the personal touches…so to speak.  Maggie Carey, the writer and director of The To Do List, set out to make a teen sex comedy with a female character taking the spotlight.  It’s sad to say that in 2013 I’m using the word refreshing when it comes to seeing the main protagonist is a female but when was the last time we saw that, Easy A?  But I don’t think I would lump that movie into the teen sex comedy genre.  

So with that being said, what better way to usher in your movie than by casting Aubrey Plaza.  An actress/comdienne who really deserves a breakout role.  Sure she has her time in the spotlight on Parks & Rec, but a movie catered to her sensibility is long overdue.  And on paper, putting her in the lead role in a teen sex comedy that comes from the female perspective seems like a home run, doesn't it?  But along the way of writing and filming The To Do List, Maggie Carey forgot a couple of key ingredients.  First, she forgot to give her movie the female perspective and secondly, she forgot to give it heart.  

We'll dive into all that in a moment, but first let's talk about this movie. Plaza plays Brandy, fresh from graduating valedictorian at her high school and ready to and willing to get her life moving in the college direction.  But Brandy is a little inexperienced when it comes to the opposite sex and after her friends Fiona (Alia Shawkat) and Wendy (Sarah Steele) take her to a 'real' party, Brandy decides that she needs to get some real life experience.  This, in large part, due to meeting (and unexpectedly having an awkward encouter with) Rusty Waters (Scott Porter), the 'hunky guy'.  Brandy decides to make a list of sexual escapades that will not only prepare her for college, but help her in her quest of Rusty.   With some advice from her 'more experienced' sister Amber (Rachel Bilson), Brandy works through a random assortment of dudes, including Cameron (Johnny Simmons), a high school classmate who has a crush on Brandy, and she likewise.  But Brandy's road is filled with bumps and her awkwardness is put on full display at a local pool run by Willy (Bill Hader), where she also happens to work with Rusty and Cameron.  All of this leads to the big 'moment with Rusty and a falling out with Cameron.  I probaby don't need to tell you how the story ends, we've seen it all before.

I will say this right now, I laughed more than a few times watching this film.  But I'm also a guy who has no problem with scatological humor and The To Do List offers up a few scenes that even some of its male centric movies didn't show off.  But with movies like this, the humor will only take you so far you need to give us a character that you can relate to.  I never felt that with Plaza's Brandy.  Yes I'm well aware that I am a male saying that I didn't relate to a female character, but follow me on this one.  Carey does a real disservice to her character by not really giving her any character.  She's a stock character that you will find in other worse films of this nature.  I felt there was no female voice, you could've easily switched this character out with a male character without really changing your screenplay.  And isn't that the whole point of doing this?  The give the ladies a chance to have their say?

That also rolls into my next beef.  There is no heart in the movie.  You could really care less about Brandy or her friends or family.  Sure, they will make you laugh, but its a hollow shell.  Which is a real shame, but Plaza is pretty good at showing off a vulnerabiltity that you don't always see with female characters.  As she rolls her way through her list, it's all played for laughs.  You need to see the pain and struggle.  No it doesn't have to be some heavy handed Lifetime movie of the week, but when you miss this boat, it makes you no better than those Freddie Prinze Jr. movies from the 90's.

So while The To Do List made me laugh and for that, I will reward it with a rating of 3 Abiding Dudes, there are better movies out there.  And hopefully, someone will see this and learn from it's mistakes, making  a teen sex comedy with a female character that is worth everyones time.  Sorry Aubrey Plaza, you deserve better and hopefully that times comes sooner than later. 

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