sun 27/09/2020

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The To Do List

The To Do List

The girls are very much on top in Maggie Carey's side-splitter

Let's get it on: Aubrey Plaza is looking for a good time in 'The To Do List'

In this refreshingly rowdy, distinctly feminist film from debut writer-director Maggie Carey an inexperienced, tirelessly sensible teenage girl prepares herself for college life by taking charge of her own sexual awakening. She does so in a way that's hilariously overly administrative, with her plans taking the form of the title's tawdry, quite literal "to do list".

In this refreshingly rowdy, distinctly feminist film from debut writer-director Maggie Carey an inexperienced, tirelessly sensible teenage girl prepares herself for college life by taking charge of her own sexual awakening. She does so in a way that's hilariously overly administrative, with her plans taking the form of the title's tawdry, quite literal "to do list".

Parks and Recreation's Aubrey Plaza is gifted the role of Brandy Klark, school valedictorian and virgin. As the film opens, the year is 1993 and Brandy's sights are set on college and little else. That changes when she's conned into attending a "kegger" by her more laidback friends Fiona (Alia Shawkat) and Wendy (Sarah Steele) and there she spies dreamboat Rusty Waters (Scott Porter, pictured below far right, with Johnny Simmons) strumming his guitar, flexing his biceps and tossing his blonde locks. After an improbable case of mistaken identify ends in a clinch she pursues him, taking a summer job at the local pool (a la The Way Way Back) where he works. Her ultimate goal is to bed him but before she does that she needs to master the "basics".

The To Do List unashamedly rushes through its set up, but at least skips straight to the good stuff so there's barely a moment that isn't stuffed with gags. Throughout Brandy's voyage of discovery she takes advice from her proudly experienced sister Amber (a nicely cast Rachel Bilson, best known for TV series The O.C.) and she's alternately teased and taken care of by her boss Willy (Bill Hader). It's a film where the women scheme and talk dirty and the men whine; the wettest of blankets is Brandy's besotted chum Cameron (Johnny Simmons) who's alarmed at her insensitivity when she uses him to work her way up the sexual ladder. Donald Glover (Community) and Andy Samberg also feature, with Connie Britton and Clark Gregg popping up as Brandy's parents.

The sexual discoveries of teenage boys are ten a penny onscreen (Superbad, Project X, American Pie et al). And yet women have had little that replicates their own formative experiences and - the Tina Fey-scripted Mean Girls aside (which is still pretty tame) - virtually nothing that's actually sharply scripted and fun. The To Do List is hardly realist, painting in crudely comedic, splayed brush strokes - but it does capture the sex-crazed spirit of that time in a girl's life: the crudity and mishaps, alongside the prurience. The oft seen males lusting at idealised females is flipped so that we see - oh of course! - young women do objectify men and have sex drives too. It's so rarely seen it seems quite radical.

Carey's film makes good use of Plaza's eye-rolling drollery and ability to cut through, or reinvent clichés. She might flirt with convention but ultimately her comfort in her own unconventionally beautiful, socially maladjusted skin is a pleasure to observe. How satisfying it is to see this scene-stealing supporting player in a role that makes good use of her talent - the recent Safety Not Guaranteed being perhaps a touch too gentle for her considerable comedic flair.

If you think you can see where this film is heading - don't worry. It isn't. The To Do List makes for a crassly confident debut, skewering expectations with a javelin and Carey's film has so much fun with 90s nostalgia that it will appeal to those who were teenagers then, as well as those who are in their teens (and twenties) now. The film's educated yet smutty approach is summed up by the following exchange: "You're either the virgin or the whore" Brandy complains, paraphrasing her heroine Gloria Steinem. Her friend's response: "One of those sounds a lot funner".

Overleaf: watch the trailer for The To Do List

Follow @Emma Simmonds on Twitter

There's barely a moment that isn't stuffed with gags

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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