Thursday, July 25, 2013

She wants to lose her virginity

The To Do List reflects a young woman's point of view, but winds up as one more overly crude teen comedy.
Director Maggie Carey's comedy, The To Do List, offers little by way of big revelations as it joins an already long line of sexually obsessed teen comedies.

The movie features an abundance of gross-out humor, including a bit that one supposes was meant to qualify as a hilarious highpoint.

In it, the movie's main character -- played by Aubrey Plaza -- takes a bite out of a turd she finds floating in a swimming pool. Plaza's Brandy thinks she's eating a candy bar placed in the pool as a prank.

It's all part of the hazing that Plaza's Brandy receives as the newest employee at the town pool, where she's landed a job for the summer. It's 1993, and Brandy just has graduated as valedictorian of her Boise high school. We know she's brainy because she gives a graduation speech which her fellow grads greet with vocal derision.

The movie's main ploy revolves around the fact that Brandy remains a virgin. To remedy the situation before the start of her freshman year at college, Brandy composes a check list of sexual experiences that she must complete en route to her deflowering.

Brandy approaches her task with the same kind of single-minded drive one might expect from a gifted student who's intent on learning how to pad a resume.

Although she's forced into a bit of a one-note role, Plaza is good at playing a carnally challenged teen-ager who's making a first visit to Planet Sex.

Brandy's summer project -- more an expression of ambition than desire -- is supposed to culminate in intercourse with a blonde hunk of a college student(Scott Porter), who also works as a lifeguard at the town pool. A loosey-goosey, semi-adult (Bill Hader) presides over the pool, one more big-screen grown-up mired in a swamp of perpetual immaturity.

Carey over-estimates the comic mileage she'll obtain by putting Plaza -- best known for her work on TV's Parks and Recreation -- at the center of a comedy that basically offers variations on formula tropes, but which -- at least for my money -- doesn't turn things upside down. Carey may have missed a great opportunity for some much-needed genre subversion.

The movie's supporting cast adds to the feeling of familiarity. Brandy has two down-to-earth pals (Alia Shawkat and Sarah Steele) who seem to have outpaced her when it comes to worldly knowledge. Brandy's snooty but sexually advanced sister (Rachel Bilson) has pinned her hopes on marriage. Brandy also has a clueless father (Clark Gregg), a standard feature in this sort of comedy.

Brandy's socially progressively mother (Connie Britton) isn't much help, either. Late in the movie, Mom provides Brandy with a tube of lubricant to make her first sexual experience less of an ordeal, a kind of family rite-of-passage.

Johnny Simmons plays Cameron, a friend who really likes Brandy and who becomes a major guinea pig in her on-going sexual experiment.

I found The To Do List alternately gross, charmless and only mildly funny, a movie committed almost entirely to the notion that when it comes to sex, young women can be just as crude and insensitive as young men.

The fact that the movie was directed by a woman and features a woman as its main character may be viewed as something of a breakthrough, but derivative teen comedies remain derivative teen comedies, regardless of which gender provides the movie's dominant perspective.

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