Friday, December 13, 2013

The To Do List Review

The To Do List Review
The picture above pretty much says everything you need to know about "The To Do List"

I consider myself a pretty laid-back film goer. It takes something extraordinary to get me offended. I've seen some dark, unapologetic horror films and I've seen the raunchiest of comedies. With all movies, I like what I like and that's that. But the movies that work work because of two words I learned a few years ago: context matters. How a screenwriter writes a context, how a director shows that context and how the context plays out on film all matters to my overall satisfaction of a movie. In terms of "The To Do List," I ended the film fully satisfied. 

Its interesting that the film takes place in 1993 and has a instant nostalgic feel. "The To Do List" feels like one of those forbidden sex comedies that came out in the early 1980's, that you had to really track down in order to watch. It tells the story of Brandy Klark (Aubrey Plaza), a girl who was very successful in high school, but has wound up a virgin right before college. Feeling the pressure from her big sister (Rachel Bilson), best friends Fiona (Alia Shawkat) and Wendy (Sarah Steele) and basically the world around her, she decides to get dirty. Brandy makes a list of sexual acts she feels she needs to master before going off to college, and yes, the list ends with the "home run." Despite her high school lab partner Cameron (Johnny Simmons) flirtations, Brandy wants her first time to be with hottie Rusty Waters (Scott Porter).

What makes "The To Do List" fun and memorable is how it avoids the common cliches that have been attached to this sub-genre. Too many times these days with supposed "raunchy" comedies, the filmmakers dial the film back for a conventional, traditional, conservative ending. If you're expecting Brandy to learn the hard way that Rusty is a bad match for her and for her to go running to Cameron to live happily ever after, well that doesn't happen. Not quite, at least. "The To Do List" plays humorous and unconventional all the way through. To go through the Hollywood system and come out so un-generic is actually pretty remarkable. But I don't want to sell "The To Do List" as a Godless fable. There is plenty of the movie's mind. By the end, the film's sincere message about friendships, personal identity, and living a good life is completely undeniable.

Oh, did I mention the film is funny? "The To Do List" has a great cast of actors who elevate the material. I have loved Plaza's work ever since I saw her and she's great here. Its a fun surprise to see her playing grounded and innocent for a change. Rachel Bilson was not annoying once in this film, that was also a pleasant surprise. The work by Shawkat and Steele is the highlight of the movie though, playing the sincerest best friends in a movie ever. Simmons and Porter are also very good, as are the many small roles/cameos by Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Bill Hader, Clark Gregg, Connie Britton, Andy Samberg, Donald Glover and Jack McBayer. Its a packed cast and everybody, no matter how big or small the role, has a time to shine.

If I had one complaint though it seems the film runs out of steam in crucial parts of the film and pacing definitely becomes a factor. However, the film packs enough laughter over its running time for those minor nitpicks to not matter. "The To Do List" is a lot of fun, and I hope you all see that too.


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