In a summer-movie season dominated by men doing things while women stand by (if they are present at all), we finally get a film where a girl takes charge and does things. So many things that she's gotta have a list!
Writer-director Maggie Carey's debut feature, The To-Do List, is a coming-of-age comedy, set in 1993, tracking the sexual education of Brandy Klark (Aubrey Plaza). Even as the high-achieving Brandy gives the valedictorian speech, she's taunted for being a virgin. Convinced by her friends that being sexually experienced will better prepare her for college, the ever-organized Brandy lists sex acts in her TrapperKeeper, and makes checking them off her summer project.
She's also lifeguarding at the pool, where she's teased by her slacker boss (Bill Hader) and the hunky guy she has a crush on. In her off hours, she gets to learning with some of the local lads — from the nice guy (Johnny Simmons) who adores her to some willing bystanders (Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Donald Glover, Andy Samberg).
The To-Do List earns its R rating with profanity, a steady stream of jokes about sex, bodily fluids and weirdly shaped sex organs, and one excruciatingly awkward sex scene after another. But however mortifying Brandy's experiences are, she's still a girl in charge of her own sexual awakening, even as it's played for laughs. And it's not like the guys depicted here come off any less awkward or embarrassing — this is some equal-opportunity cringe. Plaza finally takes a break from her moody, drone-y roles (like April on Parks and Recreation) and turns in a game, funny performance as the smart-but-clueless Brandy.
Amid the jokes are some non-preachy messages, such as the importance of lube and condoms, and of parents and teens talking openly about sex. And even though this film's comedic premise relies on the All-Consuming Sex Quest, Brandy considers this accomplishment just one of many things that define an adult. It's also not just sex that Brandy learns about: As a control freak with a superiority complex, perhaps her greatest lesson is learning to loosen up, while acknowledging she has plenty to learn from others. The film also calls Brandy out for using men as study props, and the guys get some time to explain they also suffer from confusion and emotions.
The To-Do List is still a silly, crass comedy, but it's in the canon of Better Teen Sex Comedies, like Fast Times at Ridgemont High or the first American Pie. And with its non-exploitative female perspective, it practically stands alone. You go, girl.