[Screen It]


(2013) (Aubrey Plaza, Bill Hader) (R)

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Comedy: A 1990s era high school graduate sets out to experience all sorts of sexual activities, including losing her virginity, before heading off to college.
It's 1993 and Brandy Klark (AUBREY PLAZA) has just graduated from her Boise, Idaho high school. Despite being the valedictorian, she's perhaps best known for still being a virgin, something not lost on her more sexually experienced best friends, Fiona (ALIA SHAWKAT) and Wendy (SARAH STEELE).

When her older sister, Amber (RACHEL BILSON), informs Brandy that her upcoming freshman year at Georgetown will be "one big sexual pop quiz," the high school graduate scraps her pre-college to-do list and replaces it with a progressively escalating list of sexual activities she wishes to experience before her first day of college, even if she doesn't yet know what some of them mean.

And where better to start than the various boys who work at the local swimming pool -- managed by Willy (BILL HADER) -- where she gets a summer job as a lifeguard. Among them is her best friend and fellow incoming Georgetown freshman, Cameron (JOHNNY SIMMONS), who secretly confides in his best friend, Duffy (CHRISTOPHER MINTZ-PLASSE), about his attraction to Brandy. There's also Derrick (DONALD GLOVER) and a brief interlude with a visiting rock singer, Van (ANDY SAMBERG), but she has her ultimate sight set on hunky college student Rusty (SCOTT PORTER) being the one to deflower her.

With occasional sexual advice from her mom (CONNIE BRITTON) but far less from her conservative judge dad (CLARK GREGG), and being egging on by her friends and sister, Brandy starts plowing through her long list of sexual activities.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
Ah, the to-do list. Most everyone has created one or more of them sometime in their lives, with some even being cutely named "honey-do" lists for projects around the house that your significant other would like to see executed and completed. Despite the fact that most efficiency experts state they're a bad idea in terms of creating overwhelm and thus procrastination of actually getting anything done, we all make such lists and then feel quite pleased and/or relieved to scratch off one or more items on them.

Sometimes, though, the "do" part of that list name comes with additional connotations, especially if the list maker is a teenage girl. While both sexes of that age have sexual longings as well as peer pressure to engage in certain acts, girls seem to end up being subjected to far more of the latter regardless of whether the former is driving them to the point of distraction.

Back in my youth, it was common to hear (nearly always second-hand) about girls who wanted to lose their virginity not because they were in love or aroused, but simply to beat some unofficial temporal rule, be that before turning eighteen (or else 20), graduating from high school or starting college. Thus, the summer right around or after the end of their senior year in high school is when such "beat the clock" deeds were done.

All of which brings us around to "The To Do List," a very R-rated sex comedy that puts a gender spin on that very genre. While we're used to seeing movies about boys wanting to "get busy" -- be that in the likes of the "American Pie" or "Porky's" franchises and many others of their ilk -- it's far rarer to find ones about girls as the aggressive leads. Sure, there have been some dramas touching on that subject, but not many sex comedies.

With "Bridesmaids" blazing the trail of showing that the ladies can be just as down and dirty as the fellas in terms of sex, raunch and other crude humor, first-time feature writer/director Maggie Carey follows along that path by putting the old twisteroo on such issues with her work here.

In it, an ambitious but somewhat socially awkward and certainly sexually inexperienced high school valedictorian (Aubrey Plaza) gets enough pressure from her friends (Alia Shawkat and Sarah Steele). and va-va-voom older sister (Rachel Bilson) to "pop your cherry" that she tears up her preexisting lists of things to do before her first day of college and turns that into a literal and figurative "to do" list.

The filmmaker set her story in 1993 (the year she also graduated from high school in Boise, just like her protagonist) not only to pay loving homage and do some poking at the cultural elements of that era, but also because no Internet searching was being done at the time. All of which results in the heroine not having immediate access to learning what all of her list of sexual terms means, let alone executing them, and thus she must lean on the advice and rumors from her friends.

While that provides for a few laughs here and there, Carey seems a bit more obsessed with the gross-out material than anything particularly clever or imaginative. At one point, Brandy believes she's still being hazed at her summer pool job and is convinced that others are pulling a "Caddyshack" candy bar moment on her. Alas, that's not the case. Throw in a graphic vomiting scene and two others involving semen and even the Farrelly brothers might wince at some of the offerings, at least in terms of not taking such material to new creative heights (or depths, if you will).

What's most surprising here is the omission of much heart. Sure, it's briefly amusing to have the various boys (including Johnny Simmons and Scott Porter) ending up being the ones who are sensitive and even somewhat old-fashioned when it comes to sexual encounters and their feelings, while the girls are operating solely in the "love 'em and leave 'em" mindset and behavior. But the best sex comedies are the ones that have some true, heartfelt emotion in them. For all of its randy and raunchy material, the original "American Pie" did just that. Although this one occasionally strives for similar moments, it mostly comes up short.

The latter also applies to the dialogue, usually a strong point for such films ("Juno," "Easy A," etc.) that revolve around girls and social pressures. Yet, what's offered here is mediocre and pretty much instantly forgettable. And while Plaza is okay playing the lead role, the character and performance lacks the charm that Ellen Page and Emma Stone brought to their respective roles in those aforementioned comedies. Supporting performances are okay, with Bill Hader (Carey's real-life husband) stealing most of the scenes he's in as the slacker pool manager.

I'll admit I laughed several times at some of the material. But considering the rare gender reversal approach at telling a tale in the sex comedy genre, this could have been so much more, both in terms of laughs and insight into those going through the confusing, exhilarating and complicated coming of age moments in their lives. "The To Do List" has some briefly amusing material, but not enough to warrant getting checked off one's "must see" movie list or obtaining a grade higher than a 4 out of 10.

Reviewed July 22, 2013 / Posted July 26, 2013

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