By Betsy Sharkey, Los Angeles Times Film Critic
6:37 PM EDT, July 25, 2013
You can count on summer movies for one sure thing — a teenager will fumble through his or her first sexual experience. On-screen, I mean.
Because so many boys have done it so boldly, reveling in their risky business and risqué language — a low bar set long ago by the likes of "American Pie" and "Porky's" — the girls were overdue for some score-settling.
For that there is the new coming-of-age comedy "The To Do List."
The film stars Aubrey Plaza as Brandy, the bookish valedictorian on a brash quest to experience all the unmentionables in the summer before college. She has a blushingly specific list of "to dos."
As cheeky writer-director Maggie Carey said in introducing the film the other night, it's an ode to her first, and I quote, "hand job," and set in the dark, pre-Google ages of the early '90s, when inquiring minds went to the library to find out the meaning of "69." So, no surprise, Carey's chick version of losing one's virginity does not go soft on the salacious.
But it takes a lot more than raunchy language to make a film like this work.
The fun of those first nerve-wracking sexual explorations that "American Pie" captured so caustically and exhaustively is dampened here by the film's style. Brandy applies the same serious intensity to learning about, and then trying to master, the various types of sex-related "jobs" as she did to her senior science fair project. Much of it is attempted with her science project partner, Cameron (Johnny Simmons).
But the kids have a tough time pulling off the groping in ways that are either believable, sensual or much fun. There is such a thing as too studious — I think it's called tedious.
The guy in Brandy's sights for that final spot on the list is the dreamy Rusty. The film doesn't ask much of Scott Porter beyond looking hunky — too bad, because the actor showed such nuance as the paralyzed quarterback in the NBC series "Friday Night Lights."
Speaking of, Connie Britton, another wonderful "FNL" alum, plays Brandy's mother. I don't think Britton can actually be bad, but she can be given really bad lines. The mother-daughter heart-to-heart about lubrication is a fan loyalty test.
Brandy's BFFs, Fiona (Alia Shawkat) and Wendy (Sarah Steele), are technically there to try to spice things up. They have more experience with boys than she does, and they are more graphic in talking about sex. But they really function as little more than filler between Brandy's exploits.
The local pool is where a lot of it happens. In addition to Rusty's shirtless presence, Brandy is a newbie guard and ripe for hazing. The borrowed bikini will be too big. It will reinforce why Fiona and Wendy nicknamed her Pancake, but little else.
The pool manager is a boozy buddy named Willy. Played by Bill Hader, Willy is weirdly the film's most sensitive soul. For the nonsensitive type, there is Christopher Mintz-Plasse. The young comic whose "Superbad" turn as nerdy "player" McLovin' was unforgettable, shows up as Duffy. Basically, McLovin' lite.
To be fair, this particular genre doesn't exist to get actors to dig deeply. The flicks are designed to deliver as much off-color embarrassment and personal humiliation as possible. In that, "The To Do List" is neither supergood nor superbad, but passable doesn't exactly raise the bar.
'The To Do List'
MPAA rating: R for pervasive strong crude and sexual content including graphic dialogue, drug and alcohol use, and language -- all involving teens
Running time: 1 hour, 44 minutes
Playing: In general release
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