Film Review: The To Do List

   Hollywood’s cinematic history is full to the brim with stories of young males making the perilous transition to manhood; from the jocular (American Pie) to the sincere (Adventureland), many American teen movies find themselves centred around (heterosexual) male sexual discovery. Yet, rather disconcertingly and jarringly, very little attention has been given to the corresponding female journey – something which writer/director Maggie Carey has attempted to address in her coming-of-age comedy The To Do List.

   Aubrey Plaza stars as Brandy Klark, the valedictorian in her 1993 graduating class. Wise but inexperienced, Klark makes herself the challenge of getting herself up to speed sexually, culminating in losing her virginity, so she can be “ready” before heading off to college and, hopefully, making love with the object of her affections – Rusty Waters (Scott Porter).

   Klark prepares herself in the only way she knows how: by making a check list of activities which she aims to fulfil in a clinical fashion. Beginning with first base and working her way upwards (including dry humping and oral sex), Klark reasons that by the time she has worked her way to the bottom of her list she will be ready to complete her transition into womanhood – yet, as to be expected, not everything runs as smoothly as planned. Whilst in Klark’s mind sex may be just a functional activity, real life does its best to complicate matters – emotion and expectations rear their heads and make a mockery of Klark’s calculated approach.

   In many respects The To Do List is a rather admirable film – approaching a coming-of-age tale of sexuality from a female approach remarkably feels incredibly fresh in mainstream American cinema. Also, to be respected, is the manner in which Carey presents sex and sexual experiences in a variety of manners – not every occasion will be life changing, and presenting it as such would be ingenuous, but neither can sex be treated solely as a cold exchange or a commodity. Lessons are learned from both ends of the spectrum in the course of the feature (in a similar fashion to David Gordon Green’s underappreciated All The Real Girls).

   Ultimately, however, there is a rather fine, personal and sincere movie to be found in The To Do List but in order to find it one has to search incredibly hard. For all the earnest maturity in Carey’s script, there is up to three times as much crass gross-out humour to compensate – it’s almost as if she believed there’d be no audience for a compassionate film and, instead, had to Trojan horse her messages in a sub-par post-Farrelly brothers platform. The script veers off into deliriously unfunny vignettes in which Klark finds herself accidentally engaging in scatology in one instance - at points like these the film feels more like sub par-American Pie 3 than it does a vital, refreshing text. This is a shame.

   Like an underwhelming teen sexual encounter, The To Do List is a movie full of promise which veers into something closer to unsatisfactory disappointment. Carey’s film gives the impression of confidence but spends much of its time groping around, not entirely sure what it is attempting to do or, for that matter, why. There’s the promise of something much greater than has been experienced but, sadly, The To Do List marks a rather forgettable occasion.


  1. This sounds like the worst film ever! Ugh I'd cringe so badly watching this :/

    Danniella |

    Reply Delete
    1. Aye tis an odd one. Had great potential... but just didn't cut the mustard.


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