Cross it off: Don't do "To Do List"
By Richard Roeper
It's official: The 1990s are the olden days. Set in 1993, wallpapered with the music of Mazzy Star, 2 Live Crew and Gin Blossoms, filled with references to Home Improvement, three-day rentals of movies on VHS, Clinton/Gore, "electronic mail" and the dubious fashion choices of the era, The To Do List has all the cues down pat, but never really seems authentically of its time.
This is a retro take on American Pie from the female point of view, but without the relative subtlety of that franchise, and yes, I know how ridiculous that sounds. Nevertheless.
I love Aubrey Plaza. She puts on a deadpan, rock-star performance as the dark but redeemable April on NBC's Parks and Recreation, but she's in the wrong film at the wrong time here. At 29, Plaza is too mature, too self-assured and just too ... Aubrey Plaza to convincingly play a newly minted high school valedictorian named Brandy who gets drunk for the first time in her life on the night of her graduation and wakes up with a killer hangover— and a sudden determination to create a bucket list of sexual adventures that will culminate with her losing her virginity to a shirtless meathead college stud with the startling moniker of Rusty Waters. (Rusty is played by Scott Porter, who, at 34, is too old to be playing a shirtless meathead college stud named Rusty Waters.)
There's not much to admire about the new, supercharged Brandy. She throws herself at just about every available guy on her radar, including her wimpy marshmallow platonic guy friend Cameron (Johnny Simmons), Cameron's best friend, Duffy (Christopher Mintz-Plasse, still McLovin' it up as a horny dork), and a fellow lifeguard (Donald Glover) at the downscale public pool where she has a summer job. In the process, Brandy's disloyal to her friends, incompetent on the job, dismissive of the feelings of others— and she often behaves like an idiot. She couldn't be more different from her previous self if a wicked witch had cast a spell on her.
Brandy gets a lot of advice, solicited and otherwise, from her shallow bimbo of an older sister (Rachel Bilson), her sitcom-clueless parents (Connie Britton and Clark Gregg) and her best friends, Fiona and Wendy (Alia Shawkat and Sarah Steele, respectively). Often saddled with underwhelming punch lines provided by writer/director Maggie Carey, the supporting players do their best to sell the dialogue, which almost never feels like anything anyone would ever say in the face of Brandy's latest humiliation.
And oh is she humiliated. Remember that famous episode involving Jim and his mom's fresh-baked dessert in the aforementioned "American Pie"? On multiple occasions in this summer romp, Brandy suffers through experiences far more embarrassing. (SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT!) We're talking about the actual consumption of human waste. We're talking about Brandy's father walking in on Brandy having the kind of sex that's still illegal in some states. I'll stop there.
Every so often there's a solid comedic sequence. Andy Samberg scores some laughs as a grunge rocker. Bill Hader puts an interesting spin on his role as the manager of that outdoor pool, though his role feels underwritten.
But to reference another 1990s pop-culture staple that surfaced a few years after the time of The To Do List, nearly every actor in this movie merits a VH1 Pop-Up Video-type bubble mentioning a TV show that has made better use of their talents.
Plaza and her Parks and Rec resume. Connie Britton and Scott Porter from Friday Night Lights. Donald Glover from Community. Bill Hader and Andy Samberg from Saturday Night Live. Alia Shawkat from Arrested Development. Jack McBrayer from 30 Rock. Nolan Gould from Modern Family. Rachel Bilson from— OK, that's probably pushing it, but you see what I'm saying.
Writer/director Carey clearly has some talent, and she and Plaza deserve credit for never pulling their comedic punches. They're all in.
Problem is, it's mostly a bluff.Read more on: To Do List