Friday, August 16, 2013

The To Do List (2013)

Seen: At the Somerville Theatre in Davis Square.

Well you know me and lady-centric comedies, I just gotta have 'em! The To Do List caught my fancy not only for its excellent cast, but for its status as a teen sex comedy written and directed by a female filmmaker, Maggie Carey. I'm very pro this trend of films that take well-worn genres like buddy cop movies and teen sex comedies and inject them with women in place of familiar male leads. I'm also very pro supporting women-made films in theaters, if I can! SO that takes us to The To Do List, which stars Aubrey Plaza as Brandy, a no-nonsense valedictorian who decides to spend the summer before college learning about sex so she'll be prepared for the supposed bone-fest that is university living. In her quest for sexual sophistication, she manages to piss off most of the people in her life, but she learns some lessons along the way. And embarrasses herself a lot.

With a fantastic cast, a truly smutty script, and some generous helpings of nostalgia, The To Do List is an enjoyable entry to the genre, and wonderfully forthright about the female sexual experience. Brandy is hilariously and adorably analytical in her approach to everything, engaging in numerous straightforward and open conversations about sex with her sister (Rachel Bilson), mother (Connie Britton), friends (Alia Shawkat and Sarah Steele), and potential lovers (among them Johnny Simmons, Donald Glover, and Christopher Mintz-Plasse). I know it's just a lighthearted comedy, but honestly I was impressed with her bravery! And I learned a few things! The early-90s setting is fitting, as Carey explores shifting gender norms and the flow of sexual information in the pre-digital age. Also: skorts. I loved Brandy's totally open-minded mom, who was utterly realistic about and encouraging of her daughters' sexual curiosity, as long as they were safe about it.

Some of the jokes fall flat, and some of the gross-out humor is just... too gross. And the narrative doesn't flow too well, mostly because of the episodic nature of Brandy's journey and the fact that there isn't quite enough meat here for a full movie. But I was laughing most of the time, so I'm not going to be too picky here. I loved Plaza as the sullen, meticulous protagonist, combining the awkwardness of teenagehood with the can-do attitude of a future senator (who idolizes Hillary Clinton). Her supporting players are all excellent, with the too-cute Johnny Simmons, prudish Clark Gregg, drunken Bill Hader, and always-welcome Alia Shawkat standing out in their roles. It's silly, it's sassy, and it's refreshingly, bawdily, open about female sexuality, and all in all a fun time.

4/5

Pair This Movie With: There's a few ways to go with this one. The nostalgic vibe and female-led teen comedy premise reminded me of the very charming Easy A. Or if you want a male version there are shades of Superbad. If you want another lady-centric sex comedy I heartily recommend For a Good Time, Call... ORRR I might pair it with Mallrats mainly because Brandy's sexual studies reminded me of Tricia researching sex for her book, Boregasm.

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