While it might be depressing for some that the early 1990s are now being used as fodder for a period piece, at least The To Do List captures it correctly on the surface.
Indeed, this raunchy teen sex comedy feels like a throwback in many ways, and not just because it knows the fashions, catchphrases, hairstyles and musical preferences of 20 years ago (a Trapper Keeper also figures prominently).
Those of a certain age might get a nostalgic kick from these sexually charged coming-of-age shenanigans, yet the film as a whole doesn’t handle the transition as well between juvenile gross-out gags and more mature issues of self-discovery and gender politics.
The story takes place in 1993, when Brandy (Aubrey Plaza) graduates as valedictorian of her Idaho high school. She’s known by her classmates for being a nerd and a virgin, two labels she intends to shed during the summer before she begins college, especially after she meets a handsome co-worker (Scott Porter) when she takes a job as a lifeguard at the local swimming pool along with her shy friend Cameron (Johnny Simmons).
However, to build her confidence first, her friends help the socially awkward Brandy construct a checklist of various sex acts that she becomes willing to try as she comes out of her shell.
The script by rookie director Maggie Carey manages its share of amusing and subversive moments even if it sometimes strains to be edgy. Give the film credit for approaching some familiar subject matter from a fresh point of view, that of the girl with the sexual agenda instead of the other way around.
It’s meant to be silly and lighthearted, but never gets beyond the point of the audience laughing at Brandy and not with her. She’s too naïve and awkward to generate much sympathy. Likewise, The To Do List doesn’t exactly resonate with authenticity, perhaps in part because all of the actors look like they’re at least 25 years old.
There are plenty of sex jokes, of course. A few of them hit the mark, such as Brandy’s embarrassing experimentation with pleasuring herself, and some don’t, including her mistaking a turd in the pool for a candy bar.
By the end, The To Do List resembles its main character to a large degree, uncertain of its future and too often trading its smarts for sporadic and forgettable pleasures.
Rated R, 103 minutes.