First-time feature film writer/director Maggie Carey brings the independent comedy The To Do List to the screen with decidedly disappointing results. The film, which stars Daria Morgendorffer stand-in Aubrey Plaza is intended as a spirited ’90s sex romp with female lead doing all of said romping, and while that’s a fantastic premise, The To Do List has a major disconnect between what should be funny and what actually is funny.
Plaza plays Brandy Klark, an overachiever on the verge of college who spent all of her time studying and none of her time dating or getting any kind of sexual experience. Now she’s got the summer before she starts college to up her sex I.Q., so that she’s not going into the petri dish of hormones known as dorm life completely unprepared. Using her more experienced sister, played by Rachel Bilson as a guide, she crafts the titular list of sex acts and sets out to check them off.
Again, it’s a promising premise, full of the kind of awkwardness that typifies most first-time sexual encounters and with an actress like Plaza who is know for her dry wit, there should be plenty of room comedy. Add to that a talented comedic cast that includes Donald Glover, Bill Hader and Alia Shawkat and the jokes practically write themselves, right? Maybe in another movie, but not here.
Comedies like The To Do List are made or broken by the likability and chemistry of their cast and there’s not much here. There’s very little interplay between the characters, there aren’t any clever or unexpected pairings between the cast members and maybe it’s because Carey cut her comedic teeth writing and directing pieces of Funny Or Die Presents, but the movie is very loosely connected, almost episodic. While making each act on the list its own short could have worked, instead there’s a lame duck romantic plot that serves as the connective tissue from one scene to the next, which fails to endear us to any of the characters, especially the lead.
The end result is a movie that feels like an outline of a comedy and not really an actual comedy. The To Do List scores points by allowing women to be as sexually adventurous as men without attaching any of the usual stigma that comes with that in movies. It also scores some points by skirting a boilerplate romance, instead of embracing it completely. But even then, a major character has to literally explain what she’s thinking in relation to what’s happening in front of her.
In all, The To Do List is better on paper than it is in practice. It goes too gross too early and it squanders a gifted improv cast in favor of a stunted script that never quite gets where it needs to go.