"The To Do List"
Romance. Rated R. 104 minutes.
by Bonnie Osborne – © 2013 - CBS Films
of Rachel Bilson and Aubrey Plaza in "The To Do List"
Three seconds was all
it took for the opening music to establish The To Do List
as an overflow of enough teen movie gag execution to hide just
how deep the pool is. Upon the last credits scrolling away, it
may require second viewings of this breakthrough vehicle for Aubrey
Plaza to find out if there was something or many things I missed.
How do I sum this up?
A public insult to her identity causes main character Brandy Klark
to embark on a personal quest seeking satisfaction in personal
stature that will lead her through countless, grave objectives
and encounter numerous figures that will advance and hamper her
success. Please scroll back up and re-read the title if this synopsis
is difficult to figure out.
Set in the early 1990s,
the film’s opening credits cast a hook suggesting that I
was in for two hours of pure nostalgia. The loving portrait of
a Hilary Clinton still not familiar, the odd lips phone, the prints
of grunge icons within countless bedrooms; they all suggest the
spirit of the times, but something’s not right. It seems
limited and distant, as if the hijinks that come meant for such
references to be a memory ripe for ridicule over its awkwardness
and parody. Is it homage or is it a shot at Hollywood’s
story regurgitation? Slightly helpful in pointing to an answer
is the revelation that yes, much of the “teen” cast
was chosen for being near thirty (at least according to IMDB trivia).
Meanwhile, the haziness of such nostalgia was implied on at least
one occasion, with anachronisms intentionally repeated so that
it wasn’t forgotten (hint: Jerry Maguire). It could
be both, but that’s the call of the cast and crew.
Having played the best
comic foil among Scott Pilgrim versus the World’s
several, Aubrey Plaza at last takes command of an ensemble film
that is unbound in outrageousness but barely outrage-inducing
in its boundaries (aside from one too many shoves into the pool
suffered by Brandy; oh, AND one cruel surf of the spectrum from,
how I can phrase it without too much spoiled, Bill Murray to Pasolini).
Through it all, the impressive delivery is how Brandy doesn’t
allow for esteem emergencies to shake up (into hysterics, save
for punch line response) her intellectual drive to interpret and
discover the means of accomplishment. In other words, it was pure
woman-in-charge attitude front and center, especially with ten
to fifteen of the most frenzied yet hilarious seconds of siblings
scuffling I’ve ever seen on a theater screen. This maturation
fulfillment turns out to be the writing on the wall for the main
supporting characters, with Bill Hader’s pool manager slob
best clarifying by the end that there’s always an improvement
to be made and a future to look forward to (as if parodying Home
Improvement’s Wilson wasn’t subtle enough).
Elsewhere in the cast,
Clark Gregg elevates from The Avengers’ soft-spoken
Coulson to a high tension father figure/judge who may be lacking
in the emotional stability expressed by his family. Rachel Bilson
is the savage elder sister who allows for brief parity when similar
predicaments come to a head (spoiler # 3925: pun intended). Rounding
out the primary support are Connie Britton, fellow Scott Pilgrim
alum Johnny Simmons as a perfectly-timed real emotional wreck,
and the pairing of Sarah Steele and Alia Shawkat to complete Brandy’s
Eh, may as well keep
in theme with the movie. So what teen sex comedy failed to escape
death by lampoon in this feature length directorial debut for
Maggie Carey? The checklist begins. The house party predicaments
back dropping not set for college desperation in American
Pie, Superbad and (available at Family Video, probably) 18-Year-Old
Virgin are there. So is the summertime employment chaos of
Adventureland, this time maxed in gross rudeness and
minute in sentimentality (the latter is there, but even that is
sapped with sarcasm). Then there’s the familial and peer
dysfunction that is gratuitous enough to bring Sixteen Candles
and She’s All That to mind. Even the abstinence-leaning
deadpan of Napoleon Dynamite seems profaned (in a good
way) by the opening credits, Brandy’s exploratory transition
from start to finish, and Idaho as a setting!
At plus 100 minutes,
The To Do List is a smirk-repeating reflection not on
the distant past, but on the everyday confusion and steadfastness
in building a sound state of mind despite the dilemmas that open
up from such decisions and the chaos surrounding their resolution.
Almost all of Brandy’s personal endeavors are in no way
flubbed introductory lines and walking into the wrong room commonplace
with any of Molly Ringwald’s “Big Three” characters.
They’re more equivalent as two hours to Jamie Lee Curtis
losing grip of the bedpost and jumping right back up. The cast
does all it can to relieve her of carrying the humor for each,
but thanks to the contrast between Aubrey’s blank looks
and sharp vocal barbs, the dialogue exchange brewed a humored
uproar even when shared with the support extras. The To Do
List perhaps aims to be an evolutionary step in adolescent
comedy’s smartness and predictability deterrence, but that’s
too soon to confirm. For now, I’ll just consider it the
testing of waters by a long-established supporting actress ready
to venture further up the list as a comedic marquee name.
3.5/5 (4 if not for a gruelling a cappella moment!)
the Official Movie Trailer
poster credit: CBS Films
To Do List" movie poster