Though predisposed to like this film – up for some coming of age nostalgia and eager to support writer-director Maggie Carrey in her feature debut – I left the theater wanting both a little less and a little more.
The storyline is simple: the valedictorian of her high school class, who is a straight arrow, decides to lose her virginity before going to college. Aubrey Plaza plays Brandy Klark.
If The To Do List is going to be a period piece (1993) with a contemporary sensibility, then there should be some critique involved and less placing period props and references into a screenplay that seems nothing like the actual time period it purports to represent.
There are some clever and funny moments, but overall the story feels like it needs a bit more fine-tuning to feel less like a series of funny vignettes and more like a well-crafted whole.
I appreciate that the story detours from some of the expected routes, and I have no problem with a frank treatment of sexuality. Obviously, a percentage of teenagers engage in quite a lot of the sexual behavior on Brandy’s To Do List – and did so in 1993, too – but the “message” of the film seems quite muddled at the end.
The fact that Brandy tries to articulate the point – that we should take sex both more seriously and less seriously and that teenagers should not traffic in regret – is more confusing than helpful or insightful. It’s not that I don’t believe that message on some level, but I don’t find its articulation here very compelling.
Admittedly, I am a sucker for Say Anything and several of the John Hughes films. Though The To Do List references these obliquely (and Caddyshack and Beaches directly), there is none of the sweetness here of the other films.
That’s fine. Clearly, Carrey is engaged in a different type of project, but my less and more comments stand: the film would benefit from less placement of period pieces without some authenticity or critique and more thematic build and nuance as well as more coherence of character and narrative in the script.
If you are looking for recent films fitting more into the mold of Say Anything and the Hughes films, try Pitch Perfect, which is softer but still a lot of fun. If you want something a little edgier than that but something that coheres better than The To Do List, check out Easy A.