'The To-Do List' review: Leave this one off your 'must watch' list
This 90s-era comedy is essentially a girl version of 'American Pie,' only way less charming.
In short: Uptight, type-A high school senior Brandy Clark (Aubrey Plaza) with no sexual experiences decides she must prepare herself for college by cramming years worth of experimentation into one summer. (watch the trailer)
Remember how crazy the '90s were? If not, 'The To-Do List' will commit the crime that many flimsy 'period' movies do: shoehorn too many unnecessary pop culture references that never advance the story and only come off as snide jabs at the lameness of yesteryear. Movies stuck in VHS players, Trapper Keepers, 'Me So Horny,' skorts and other '90s era trappings take up far too many minutes in this already bloated running time.
Unfortunately, the one joke about dated '90s technology that would have worked and also justified the entire movie's setting is glossed over very quickly. Brandy's entire reason for her list is to learn about sexuality before college - and her only resource in 1993 is either the library or personal experience. 'The To-Do List' wouldn't have worked if it was set in 2013 - a modern day Brandy could have just googled her way to a functional knowledge of the carnal. Sadly, this is all explained away in one-throwaway line, yet a ton of other 'wasn't 1993 wacky' gags made the final cut.
Brandy, as a character, is never endearing - she fluctuates between unbearably uptight to downright thoughtless/selfish. Her innocence, which is her primary driver of her story, is not made accessible or vulnerable, instead Brandy is bossy, snide or some combination of both.
The supporting cast is awesome on paper (Alia Shawkat, Bill Hader, Connie Britton, Donald Glover, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Andy Samberg and Clark Gregg) but only Hader leaves any sort of lasting impression. Brandy's friends do little other than crudely describe sex acts. The talents of Glover, Samberg and Mintz-Plasse are wasted on thin roles.
The better teen sex flicks can be crass and vulgar, but have a sympathetic character who audiences can cheer for and embrace. Brandy has all the charm of Spock and none of the charisma.
Final verdict: While occasionally very funny, long sections of the film are driven by a generally unsympathetic character surrounded by non-characters.