Back in 2008, in a time where “college movies” had become uninspired and juvenile, a little sexually perverted, raunchy comedy called Sex Drive surged forward out of nowhere. Why? Easy – something about this road-tripping laugh-fest felt different. From a perfect cast of oddly recognizable characters (James Marsden, Seth Green, Katrina Bowden, Clark Duke, Josh Zuckerman, Amanda Crew, Dave Sheridan) to outrageously heroic moments of originality, director Sean Anders delivered a year-topping comedy that flew under the radar and defied the odds to receive two emphatic thumbs up from me. So why start my review for Maggie Carey’s The To Do List with this backstory? Because Bill Hader’s magnificent, comedic genius of a wife has given me 2013’s equivalent to a Sex Drive experience.
Starting my screening off was an appearance by writer/director Maggie Carey herself, giving us a quick little introduction about her film which she claimed was about “the first time she gave a handjob.” I started laughing right at that moment, and I can happily report didn’t stop until the final frame.
So what’s The To Do List all about? Well, soon-to-be college freshman Brandy Clark (Aubrey Plaza) is your typical nerdy high school senior. She’s the Valedictorian for her class, keeps the most upstanding goodie two-shoes persona at all times, has never been in trouble, and of course is a virgin. This never bothers her until she lays eyes on college hottie Rusty Waters (Scott Porter), realizing there’s no way she can go into college sexually behind the 8-ball. Ditching all her lame college preparation plans, she creates a new sexual to do list which she vows on completing before going to college and making a fool of herself in bed. Can she complete her kinky quest of exploration before college comes? Or will Brandy be just another awkward virgin wandering the halls of Georgetown.
The talents assembled for The To Do List are nothing short of a comedic dream team, taking a mix of rising young stars and seasoned comedy veterans, and assigning them to designated roles right in their professional wheelhouse.
Alia Shawkat and Sarah Steele play Brandy’s best friends Fiona and Wendy, who contribute the perfect amount of curiosity, hormones, and encouragement to help Brandy with every twist and turn along the way – for better or worse. Johnny Simmons plays Brandy’s lab-partner, close friend, and adoring admirer Cameron, who adds a bit of romantic drama to the mix when he confuses some of Brandy’s actions with his own emotions. Simmons really gives a hilarious performance as an equally nerdy dude to Aubrey Plaza’s Brandy, and after playing only supporting roles for most his career, really showcases his abilities to take moments from funny to gut-busting.
Christopher Mintz-Plasse and Donald Glover show up as students who Brandy interacts with while exhausting her list, both providing the funniest scene possible in respect to the sexual act they’re involved with. Mintz-Plasse attacks Brandy like a confident version of McLovin, securing laughs through the typical dork character who acts too cool for school. Glover on the other hand does everything that makes Donald Glover funny in just about everything he does, using that blank stare and spot-on comedic timing to deliver reactionary lines and facial responses that actually make nerdy cool again.
OK, if I describe every noteworthy character I’ll be rambling forever, so let me just fast forward this stuff really quickly and give everyone the bump they deserve: Andy Samberg appears as a rock-band singer for an awesome cameo, Rachel Bilson play’s Brandy’s sexually experienced sister for some memorable sibling bonding, Connie Britton plays an overly educating mother I’m glad I never had, Clark Gregg plays a perfectly up-tight father whom I wish my future wife doesn’t have, and Scott Porter plays dumb and sexy entirely too easy (and makes me more self-conscious than a teenage girl who thinks she’s fat). Boom.
But the two actors who deserve their own praise are no doubt Bill Hader, who plays Brandy’s boss Willy, and the belle of the ball herself, Aubrey Plaza.
Time and time again Bill Hader has made us laugh, be it carrying entire Saturday Night Live sketches or playing Officer Slater in Superbad, but his role as Willy proves Bill Hader is one of the funniest comedians in Hollywood right now. I’ve thought this for a while, but when Hader is on screen, you can’t do anything but laugh – even from the simplest actions. Don’t worry about simple though, because Hader is playing a local pool manager who happens to be a burnout, loves hazing new lifeguards (Brandy), and starts each morning with a beer. Yes, let the good times roll, and keep the laughs coming Bill Hader.
But Aubrey Plaza, how do you top her? You all know her as April Ludgate from Parks and Recreation, people who are cool with me know her from Safety Not Guaranteed, she’s popped up in numerous other films, but chalk The To Do List up as a gigantic success above all others for Plaza. Her portrayal of Brandy is nothing short of fearless, edgy, and monstrously hilarious, taking cues from an era of female comedians who prove they can be just as raunchy and just as relentless as the male comedians parading around taking all the glory. The situations Plaza puts herself in just for a laugh had my jaw on the floor, but only her signature deadpan delivery and characteristically emotional disconnect could deliver the big-time laughs achieved from said situations.
For my money, I question whether another 2013 comedy will strike me like The To Do List did. Is it immature, gross, overly-sexual, and perverted at times? Absolutely. Will it be everyone’s cup of tea? Probably won’t be a favorite among more straight-laced crowds. Are there faults? Yeah, a few lines seem a wee bit forced when keeping sexual comedy in mind. Did the movie accomplish the overarching goal of making audiences laugh? Mightily. Maggie Carey has created a film that perfectly exploits gross-out sexual gags and awkward teenage romance perfectly for big-screen laughs, as I was left streaming tears of laughter and joy.
The year is still young and plenty of showstopping comedies are still on the horizon, but I have no doubt The To Do List will rightfully be sitting with 2013’s comedic cream of the crop come the year’s end. I can’t justify saying Carey’s film will hands down be the funniest film I see in 2013 just yet, because of the competition left, but I can confidently say Aubrey Plaza has given us the funniest female comedic performance of the year. Seriously. I see no one challenging that honor. One of the funniest movies of the year? The best female comedy performance of the year? Yeah, you should probably see this movie.
The To Do List should be on every comedy lover's must see list for 2013, because awkward sexual encounters have never felt so right.