Brandy Clark (Aubrey Plaza) is the kind of student a teacher would love. Throughout her high-school years she was constantly awarded a Student of the Month certificate. She scored the highest GPA in her high-school’s history and she was exemplary in everything she attempted. But to her peers she was nothing short of annoying, plus she continually did the one thing that just about everyone – both students and teachers – disliked; she corrected their grammar, and let’s face it, no one likes a Grammar Nazi.
In the comedy The To Do List from first time writer/director Maggie Clark, valedictorian Bandy Clark is about to graduate from high-school and begin preparations for college. “Please be quiet,” she orders the school as she attempts to give a speech, even though no one is listening. No one can stand her, other than maybe her two friends Wendy and Fiona, and it’s never made clear why they like her.
But college is going to be different for Brandy. For one thing, her two friends tell her, she can’t expect to begin further education without having experienced the basics of dating, including losing her virginity and all the things that go with it; the kind of things that would horrify a parent but might suddenly make a girl highly popular with the boys.
Imagine the kind of characters John Hughes might have written about during the 80’s but upgraded to appeal to audiences in the new millennium with an addiction to the crudest of humor and the continual use of the f-bomb; that’s The To Do List.
Despite its raunchiness and the occasional gross-out moment – look out for a retread of the infamous Caddyshack swimming pool joke that takes things much further – it’s the cast that makes The To Do List work well enough to earn a favorable rating. To date, Aubrey Plaza’s snarky zingers and deadpan approach to comedy has made her popular on TV’s Parks and Recreation, a style that transferred well to the big screen with last year’s Safety Not Guaranteed, so in many respects playing a high-school student eager to learn just about anything if it makes her popular is the actress playing against type, and she’s good. There’s something undeniably fun about watching Plaza’s character treat her to-do list as an academic exercise rather than something to experience emotionally. She’s the female version of The Big Bang Theory’s Sheldon Cooper – everything is approached logically as if the only way to learn something is by treating it as an experiment rather than something fun to do.
Other standouts are two SNL alumni, Bill Hader as Willy, the manager of a local outdoor swimming pool and Andy Samberg as Van, a low-grade rock star who refuses an invitation to swim because of the dye in his hair, but doesn’t hesitate to stand in a running shower when Brandy needs to complete another experiment on her private list. Watching Sandberg standing under the running water of a shower with the look of ecstasy on his face as the black dye runs out of his rock star hair is alone worth the price of admission.
The film suffers from the look of low-budget – there’s an emptiness to many of the scenes, particularly around the swimming pool where Brandy has a summer job as a lifeguard – plus Clark’s direction and script has an uneven rhythm that constantly feels in need of a kick-start every so often, but it’s Plaza who saves the day. If The To Do List does anything, it shows that Aubrey Plaza is a comedienne that can shine even in the mildest – not to mention crudest – of comedies.
MPAA Rating: R Length: 103 minutes Overall Rating: 6 (out of 10)