It doesn't matter if it's a classic film like "The Summer of '42" or a broad comedy like "American Pie," there's one key ingredient in a coming-of-age movie: You have to like the person who's facing the big moment.
In the case of "The To Do List," Brandy, the nerdish character who wants to lose her virginity, is unlikable, annoying, grating and so unpleasant, there's no reason to care whether she will or won't.
Brandy Klark (Aubrey Plaza) was a perfect high school student. She spent so much time studying that she's never found time for any sexual experiences. Her trampy sister (Rachel Bilson) helps Brandy come up with a detailed list of all the sexual activities she needs to do before heading to college in the fall. She enlists the aid of her fellow workers at a local swimming pool to accomplish each sexual task.
Humor is supposed to come from Brandy's sexual innocence. The movie's set in 1993 at the early moments of the Internet boom so her sex knowledge has to be found through magazines and slutty friends.
Director/writer Maggie Carey embraces neither the comedic nor emotional transformation of the character. The script wanders from comedy scenes, such as when Brandy bites a disgusting pool floater, to being so emotionally deep that one character tells Brandy, "I hope you get AIDS."
Having Brandy be so naive is a great idea. But instead of focusing on the humor of sexual discovery, Carey turns the nerd into a sexual being so confident in herself she has no qualms walking through a public place without a top. The character should have been allowed to grow slowly instead of going from Snow White to Lolita in a few weeks.
It might have helped if the movie had at least one teen playing a teen. Aubrey Plaza is 29, while the rest of her "teen" friends are played by: Johnny Simmons, 26; Alia Shawkat, 24; Christopher Mintz-Plasse, 24; Sarah Steele, 24; and Donald Glover, 29.
The most interesting characters in the movie are Brandy's parents. Her father (Clark Gregg) prefers to remain ignorant about his daughter's sexual Olympics, while her mother (Connie Britton) looks at sex in a clinical manner. Gregg and Britton shine in the few moments they have on screen.
The problems are too big for even the veteran actors to save this film. Carey's script doesn't have the comedic or romantic thread that makes this kind of story interesting. Even if it had, Plaza's acting is so uninspired and bland that it kills the mood. Put this movie on your "do not" list.
"The To Do List," rated R for graphic sexual material, language. Stars Aubrey Plaza, Rachel Bilson, Connie Britton, Clark Greg. Alia Shawkat. Directed by Maggie Carey. Running time: 99 minutes. Grade: D
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TV and movie critic Rick Bentley can be reached at (559) 441-6355, firstname.lastname@example.org or @RickBentley1 on Twitter. Read his blog at fresnobeehive.com.