Brandy Klark (Aubrey Plaza), valedictorian of her Boise high school’s class of ’93, is an honor student, a Perfect Attendance Award winner and the sort who begins her graduation speech with a stern “Please be quiet.” A methodical approach has served her well in her life so far — and now, as she prepares to go to college, she decides to use that approach to become an expert in something that has thus far eluded her: sexual activity.
“The To-Do List,” written and directed by Maggie Carey, is a raunchy (and occasionally gross-out) comedy with no nudity; a high-school movie in which all the teenagers are played by adults (Plaza, for example, is in her late 20s); a female-empowerment tale with a central character whose personality is wildly inconsistent; and a period piece for no particular reason, except that it allows for a lot of gags about “Beaches,” Kirk Cameron and scrunchies. Ultimately, it’s a mixed bag of wit and tastelessness, with a muddled message at the end. (In a nutshell, that message seems to be: Sex is more meaningful when it’s with someone you care about, except when it isn’t. This might seem to be questionable advice for teenagers — but almost nobody in this film seems like a teenager.)
“The To-Do List” is saved by a strong, funny cast: Plaza uses the deadpan timing we saw in “Safety Not Guaranteed” to her advantage; Alia Shawkat and Sarah Steele adorably mimic teenspeak as her two best friends (their warbling of “Wind Beneath My Wings” is almost worth the ticket price); and Bill Hader finds something charming in a low-key slacker character who’s worked seemingly forever at the local pool. As summer comedies go, this is far from the best of the season (I’d give that to “The Way, Way Back,” by a mile), but those with a high tolerance for good-natured “teen” raunch could do worse.
Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or email@example.com