The To Do List (Maggie Carey, 2013)
“To be is to do” (Socrates)
“To do is to be” (Jean-Paul Sartre)
“Do be do be do” (Frank Sinatra)
I have always loved those t-shirts with that silly series of philosophical summaries. I did not know, at first, that it was Kurt Vonnegut who had come up with the idea. And now we have a movie that takes it one step further! Lucky us!
The tagline on the poster really says it all: “She’s going from straight A’s to getting her first F.” That’s right, this is yet another film in which the (of course uptight) smart and organized protagonist has to learn how to truly live. Because, you know, it’s not all about books. If you’ve seen The Heat, then you’ve already been exposed to this philosophy once this summer with its portrayal of Sandra Bullock’s character. Coincidentally (or maybe not), that previous film was also a female-centered gross-out comedy. I guess women really can’t have it all, in Hollywood.
Still, that said, let us applaud the following: here is a woman-written and -directed coming-of-age losing-one’s-virginity story, and since we’ve had plenty of such films with central male protagonists, it’s about time we had one with women. It can’t be entirely up to Lena Dunham and her cohorts to remind us that girls think about sex, too.
My problem with The To Do List is that it’s just not that funny. I laughed in some places, but I also cringed at how hard the filmmaker was pushing the gross factor. As in such recent films as Bridesmaids, This Is the End and The Heat, there seems to be an assumption that the more sexually explicit jokes are, by their very nature, funnier. For me, however, that is not the case. Even back in 1998, in There’s Something About Mary, I found the shot revealing what had happened to Cameron Diaz’s hair after she mistakenly put semen in it – thinking it was hair gel – much funnier than the shot of the semen, itself, hanging off of Ben Stiller’s ear. I guess I’m old-fashioned that way.
The To Do List, in short, is about how virgin high-school valedictorian Brandy Klark (Aubrey Plaza of “Parks and Recreation“) decides that enough is enough, it’s time to have sex. Being the borderline OCD character that she is, however, she makes a list, and proceeds to engage in all sorts of raunchy activities, one by one, leading up to the big act. Somehow, even though she’s supposedly brilliant and headed off to Georgetown in the fall, she’s working at her local pool as a lifeguard for the summer, so most of the action takes place there. That, for me, was the single dumbest plot point of the entire movie. Why isn’t she at some sort of political internship? If you can get over that, however, you might enjoy yourself.
Ms. Plaza deserves significant credit for truly throwing herself into the role, without vanity. I was impressed with her bravery, and would love to see her in more substantive material in the future. Maggie Carey, the writer/director, throws together a credible three-act narrative, with a clear beginning, middle and end, and some of what she writes hits the mark. I loved the scene with Andy Samberg and pineapple juice, for example (I will say no more). I did not need to see semen on Aubrey Plaza’s fingers, however. If you love that kind of stuff, then you’ll love this movie.
One final note – why set the story in 1993? It added nothing. Oh, and hats off to the production designer – that green bathroom vomit was very impressive!