Saturday, November 16, 2013

The To Do List (2013)(Minor Spoilers Review)

**This review contains MINOR spoilers, no big reveals or plot twists**

It’s 1993, and after graduating high school, valedictorian Brandy Klark (Aubrey Plaza) vows to lose her virginity to the desirable Rusty Waters (Scott Porter). Living in Boise, Idaho, Brandy receives support from her friends Fiona (Alia Shawkat) and Wendy (Sarah Steele).

Before Brandy conquers her main goal of intercourse with Rusty, Brandy makes a checklist of mandatory foreplay activates to complete with hopes of enjoying her once in a lifetime experience with Rusty as a sexual expert. Along the way, Brandy tries to ignore relentless taunting from her sister, Amber (Rachel Bilson), and Brandy’s mother, Jean (Connie Britton) is more understanding and supportive for her daughter’s mission to explore her sexuality, but Brandy’s prudish father, Judge George Klark (Clark Gregg) doesn’t approve of Brandy’s plans.

During a summer job as the “newbie” lifeguard, Brandy has the perfect chance to catch Rusty’s eye, but she’ll have to endure some hazing from Rusty, the other lifeguards, and the manager, Willy (Bill Hader). Brandy plans to use her longtime friends, Cameron (Johnny Simmons), Duffy (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), and others as practice guys for the foreplay experiments. Brandy is willing to do anything to fulfill her selfish and desperate desires, but towards the end of her journey, Brandy is forced to answer one crucial question: Is Rusty Waters really worth it?

Aubrey Plaza continues to excel within her niche of being the quirky and dismal woman, who’s a real pain in the ass most of the time. And I can’t forget about Plaza’s signature cold and emotionless scowl. Although, Plaza is a more sympathetic character here. Brandy is a stuck up and bossy geek with a superiority complex, who idolizes Hillary Clinton, but you’ll see a softer side to this character in certain parts here. Underneath all the struggles to fit in and capture the key to Rusty’s heart (or his pants), Brandy is a lost teenager, who’s trying to find herself, and enjoy some careless fun before it’s too late.

Clark Gregg is a perfect fit for the old school father, who’s too uptight to embrace any changes. The To Do List puts more focus on Scott Porter’s physical appearance, so in the grand scheme of things, his decent performance as this California surfer dude is an afterthought. Bilson is good for a few laughs, as the promiscuous big sister, who enjoys bullying Brandy. Simmons and Mintz-Plasse are entertaining nerds, but I give the edge to Simmons for the better performance. He’s spot on as the more sensitive friend with a soft spot for Brandy. Mintz-Plasse isn’t bad, but I guess I’m just burnt out on his reoccurring shtick, as this delusional dork with an inflated ego as a lady’s man.

Bill Hader is hilarious as the nonchalant manager, Connie Britton is harmless as the supportive and understanding mother, and Sarah Steele is the funnier one in the duo of Wendy and Fiona, as the persistent and free spirited friend, who pushes Brandy to break out of her shell. And his screen time is limited to a brief appearance, but Andy Samberg’s Van put a smile on my face. Long story short, he’s the lead singer in this amateur band, who sports a grunge look, and there’s a scene with Brandy in the pool’s shower room that brought me to tears, because I laughed so hard.

The To Do List feels like something different at first. Unfortunately, this one succumbs to a familiar and formulaic through the motions pattern step by step, because twelve minutes into the movie, I could EASILY predict the entire story. I couldn’t shake a disappointed feeling throughout the movie, but I’ll give The To Do List some credit for avoiding the corny and clichéd “I’m sorry, and I love you!” speech for Brandy’s character.

Did you know The To Do List was set in the 90’s? Well, you’ll see and hear more than enough reminders throughout the movie. Look, I love nostalgia  more than anyone, and The To Do List features a very clever 90’s themed intro, but for the love of all things holy, I don’t need constant hints and winks to remind me I’m watching a movie set in 1993. Meg Ryan, Home Improvement, Zack Morris, Sleepless In Seattle, movie posters including Jurassic Park. You name it, and The To Do List will pull out a “Remember that!” reference for a nostalgia buzz. Sorry, but The To Do List passed the point of overkill for 90’s nostalgia, because everything feels way too forced after a while. Plus, I rolled my eyes at some dumfounding attempts to point out the 90’s setting. Need an example? I can clearly see a VHS tape on the screen, so I don’t need someone to tell me they rented a “VHS” tape. Seriously, I was waiting for the “Whoopsie!” Mortal Kombat guy to pop up on the bottom of the screen, but he wouldn’t shout his famous catchphrase. Instead, the Mortal Kombat guy would appear out of nowhere to say “Hey, did you know The To Do List is set in the 90’s?”

The To Do List won’t change the landscape for coming of age comedies, but it’s a satisfying entry in the already crowded sub genre. Aubrey Plaza shines in the leading role, providing the vast majority of laughs here, and Plaza is surrounded by a rock solid supporting cast. The raunchy hijinks are consistently funny, and the gross-out gags are guaranteed to pull a reaction out of you (i.e. Brandy mistaking a real piece of floating poo for a candy bar). Still, it’s a real shame, because without the familiar genre tropes, and a constant need to remind the audience they’re watching a nostalgic 90’s film, The To Do List could’ve been one of the all-time greats.

Rating: 8/10

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