14th Feb2014

‘The To Do List’ DVD Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Aubrey Plaza, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Rachel Bilson, Johnny Simmons, Bill Hader, Alia Shawkat, Sarah Steele, Andy Samberg, Donald Glover, Connie Britton, Clark Gregg | Written and Directed by Maggie Carey

The-To-Do-List

Brandy Klark (Plaza) is an intellectually successful but socially inept student at an Idaho high school in 1993. This differentiates her starkly from her popular sister Amber (Bilson), who mocks Brandy for still being a virgin. Brandy protests that she almost slept with an older guy named Rusty (Scott Porter) once, but quickly realises that she will have to obtain greater experience soon or face further ridicule. She duly sets out to seduce Rusty by taking a job as a lifeguard at the pool where he works but faces several obstacles along the way. Can her fellow socially awkward friend Cameron (Simmons) help her out?

I have a long-standing love of teen movies. Be they the sweet, life-affirming films of John Hughes such as The Breakfast Club and Pretty in Pink or the gross-out T&A comedies such as Bob Clark’s Porkys, the Lemon Popsicle series or their hundreds of imitators. Well I say love, perhaps it’s more of an obsession – there was a time in my movie-watching life that I have a giant spreadsheet pinned to my bedroom wall that listed every “teen” movie made between 1980 and 1989 (in fact the list went as far as 1993), with columns marked: watched, owned and still to see… See what I mean about obsession?

That love for teen movies has never gone away. In fact I’d go as far as to say it was reignited in the late 90s upon the release of American Pie. But what, I hear you ask, does this have to to with The To Do List?

Well the film is essentially a throwback to the golden age of teen movies, with a little post-American Pie sensibilities thrown in. But I’m not talking John Hughes sugary-sweet teen movies, oh no. I’m talking the likes of Screwballs, Loose Screws and Odd Balls – the raunchy, sex-fueled low-budget fodder that filled shelves of video stores everywhere, with lurid covers that promised more than they delivered. Although in the case of The To Do List, the film’s original title of The Handjob promised a LOT more than could ever be delivered in a Hollywood movie!

It’s safe to say the Aubrey Plaza is carving out one hell of an interesting film career – but the likes of Mystery Team, Scott Pilgrim, Damsels in Distress and Safety Not Guaranteed cannot prepare you for her role as the gawky high-school valedictorian Brandy Klark in The To Do List. Over-sexed, totally horny and unashamedly forthright in getting what she wants, the character is unlike the cynical types Plaza is known for and for a while you can’t help but hope for some of that cynicism to creep into Brandi. It doesn’t but that doesn’t stop this from being another solid performance – Plaza even manages to imbue the character with more depth than the script thanks to her nuanced performance and generally likeability and that’s even in the face of a heavy-handed potty-mouthed script from writer/director Maggie Carey.

Of the rest of the cast Johnny Simmons is fantastic as Cameron, the sweet guy whom Brandy consistently dismisses; and Bill Hader brings the laughs as burned-out pool manager Willy. Mention must also go to Rachel Bilson as Brandy’s older sister – she makes this type of role look effortless and her character is one of the most well-rounded of the entire film. The film is also packed with familiar faces: Connie Britton and Clark Gregg hilarious (if underused) as Brandy’s sexually awkward parents, and the likes of Donald Glover, Scott Porter, Christopher Mintz-Plasse and Andy Samberg all appear in small roles (I would love to see Glover given more screen time to be honest).

Whilst many would, and have, compared The To Do List to American Pie, seeing Brandy as little more than the female equivalent of that franchises pie-loving Jim, I think the film has its true roots in the the sexually-charged teen movies of the early 80s – think Porky’s from a female perspective and you’ll be somewhere close. As a fan of the genre I couldn’t ask for more…

The To Do List is out now on DVD and Blu-ray from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.

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