Brandi Klark (Aubrey Plaza) has accomplished everything she’s set out to do in her high school career. She’s class valedictorian. She’s been accepted to a great university far, far away from her Boise, Idaho, home. As a relentlessly focused nerd, however, she’s never made time for dating. Then, as she begins her graduation speech, one of her classmates taunts her for being a virgin. Later that night, her friends drag her to a graduation party where she’s enraptured and aroused by a blonde dude (playing a guitar, of course). Half a dozen disgusting, green, high-alcohol drinks (and some fumbling with said blonde dude in the dark) later, she suddenly decides that what she wants is sexual experience.
It’s a character reversal that’s straight out of a classic farce. It’s Harold Lloyd’s beaten, middle-age clerk Harold Diddlebock taking a drink, going bonkers, and completely changing his life. And in The To Do List, it’s farce with a distinctly sex-positive, feminist point of view.
As indicated by the title, nerd Brandi methodically makes a list of all the sexual acts she wants to experience before college. She may have no idea what most of them are, or the faintest idea of how to do them, but she’s dogged and dedicated.
It’s not as easy as you’d think, but Brandi methodically works her way through her best male friend and coworkers at the small municipal swimming pool where she’s a lifeguard. The sex is played for laughs, but with just enough intimation of anxiety and pleasure to make it more than a series of penis-in-the-popcorn-box jokes. Director Maggie Carey makes the sex refreshingly positive, and does something even more interesting. Unlike say, Easy A, a teen sex comedy about a girl everyone, including her friends, brands a slut for just pretending to have sex, The To Do List’s Brandi is not branded a slut, or ostracized, for actually having sex. They may call her out for being emotionally callous, but there’s no slut shaming.
The filmmakers surround the assured Plaza with a terrific cast: Clark Gregg as her kind-of-a-dick dad; Rachel Bilson as her older, sexually assured, hilariously dismissive sister; Connie Britton as her sympathetic mom; and Bill Hader, who supplies many quality laughs as the mostly wasted pool manager.
There has been some carping in the critical community over the fact that Plaza is, in real life, 29 years old. Seriously? Does anyone think that a movie about teenage sex, with this much sex in it, could be made with actual teenagers? No major studio would make or release it; and if it did get made, the MPAA would slap an NC-17 on it.
Besides, Plaza is terrific. Her big speech, in which she puts sex and romance into proper perspective (along with putting the two guys fighting over her in their places), is the cherry on the top of this merry, cherry-popping comedy.