After a drunken night where she accidentally kisses Rusty Waters (Scott Porter), the hottest guy in town, goodie two shoes valedictorian Brandy Klark (Aubrey Plaza) sets about getting as much experience with guys as she can, before setting her sights back on Rusty. All as a plan to lose her virginity before she goes to college.
The cast list for The To-Do List reads like a who’s who of today’s TV talent. Aubrey Plaza (Parks and Recreation), Alia Shawkat (Arrested Development), Clark Gregg (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D), Donald Glover (Community) and Andy Samberg (Saturday Night Live) star with a cast that also includes Bill Hader, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Rachel Bilson, Johnny Simmons Connie Britton and Scott Porter – the last two coming off the back of Friday Night Lights. It’s just a shame that the cast, who have done so much good in previous outings, don’t really get the chance to shine here.
Aubrey Plaza is best known for her role as the caustic, but ultimately sweet, April in Parks and Recreation. In The To-Do List, she tries to shake off her most famous character, and takes on the role of a do-gooder trying to shake her image. In short, Brandy wants to be more like April, even as Plaza tries to show her diversity. This works to an extent, but the actress continually slips backward into bitchiness, meaning that Brandy sometimes comes off as bratty and unlikeable.
Alia Shawkat and Sarah Steele, as Brandy’s friends Fiona and Wendy, do not have an awful lot to do, but they do get some of the raunchier lines in the film. Scott Porter does well as the slightly dim Rusty, Johnny Simmons continues his streak for playing the nice guy with Cameron, and Rachel Bilson returns to our screens as the typical older sister; at once brash and caring. Donald Glover, Andy Samberg and Bill Hader have little more than extended cameos and it seems that Britton and Gregg had fun playing Brandy’s parents, even though it appears that a lot of their dialogue was cut as scenes pass with unexplained plot points.
Writer/director Maggie Carey seems to have had a great idea for the premise of The To-Do List, and it does start strong, but it quickly becomes a series of scenes strung together with surprisingly little. Plaza does her best to keep the boat afloat, but doesn’t always succeed. Some of the scenes are endearing, and others are slightly infuriating, leaving the whole film feeling a little like The Way Way Back’s raunchier sibling, that lacks the heart and warmth that made The Way Way Back so darn good. The To-Do List smacks of female empowerment on the surface, but does not always deliver on it’s promise, with Brandy acting more like a woman who has to impress men, than a woman who feels equal to those around her.
The To-Do List is a sweet enough romantic comedy about the pressures surrounding young women and the quest to be the most sexually experienced – even though the film only brushes past the issues that this can create. Plaza and the rest of the cast do what they can, with some of them coming off better than others, but the problem is that the film is neither as funny or as smart as it wants to be. The To-Do List could have been great, if it had addressed the issues it raised, and tried to mix comedy with a story, rather than try and string amusing scenes together with the thinnest of plots. If you want to see a great coming of age film set in a water park, The Way Way Back is the superior film. That said, if you want to see Aubrey Plaza being awkwardly promiscuous, then this is the film for you.