Ah yes, the teen sex comedy. Long considered the refuge of filmmakers who never lost their inner horndog and enjoy spinning tales of 15-year-old boys making a run at V-day. But what if a teen sex comedy were about a horny girl? Wouldn’t that be a wacky conceit just original enough to make the genre feel fresh again? That’s the question debut writer/director Maggie Carey asks of audiences in The To Do List and the answer is a resounding, “kinda.” There’s a handful of filthy laughs, a dash of morality, and a few hilarious cameos from contemporary comedy royalty, but nothing ever amounts to much more than a sum of it’s awkwardly cobbled together parts. It’s a perfectly pleasant time waster sure to gather some giggles from Netflix surfing teens sometime in the next few months, but there’s just nothing particularly surprising or original here, even though everyone involved seemed to think the gender-switch twist would get them there.
Aubrey Plaza stars as a particularly repressed type-A teen who graduates from high school with every honor imaginable. The only trouble is that she’s neglected those raging teenage hormones and is now terrified that she’s be a step behind her future college classmates in the banging department. So she does what any nerdy character in a sex comedy would do, she decides it’s time to GET IT ON! She whips up a list of every sexual activity she feels compelled to get under her belt and heads to work. After a vomit-capped trip to a kegger, Plaza sets her eyes on a muscley, guitar-packing surfer dude (Scott Porter) for the ultimate prize. To get there she starts practicing with her lab partner with a crippling crush (Johnny Simmons) and then pretty well any other willing guy in the neighborhood (a list that expands rapidly once word of her list gets out). Between her adventures with horny guys, Plaza spends her days working at a filthy pool with a charmingly alcoholic boss (Bill Hader), being harassed by her family (Connie Britton, Rachel Bilson, and Clark Gregg), and palling around with her best Beaches-loving buds (Sarah Steele and Alia Shwkat). Along the way she just might learn a few lessons about life and love in addition to the functionality of swollen members.
It’s one of those sex comedies with a heart of gold. No matter how many laughs are mined out of various thick liquids flung onto the willing starlet, the movie is ultimately about the meaninglessness of sex and importance of love and friendship with all of the carefully timed “awww”s that implies. The mix of filth and sweetness is awkward at times, but at least Carey’s heart is in the right place and the emotional arc feels genuine if a little tacked on. The movie is ultimately about the gross out gags, though, and they work more often than not thanks to a talented cast. Plaza stretches outside of her deadpan sarcasm comfort zone for an amusingly uptight overachiever. Clark Gregg and Connie Britton put some hilariously repressed faces on the usual overbearing parent types, and Steele/Shwakat fling filthy one-liners about as the wisecracking friends. However, the biggest laughs come in the cameos on the sidelines like Bill Hader’s alcoholic homeless pool manager, Andy Samberg’s pitch-perfect grunge poser, and Jack McBrayer/Christopher Mintz-Plasse doing what they do.
Ultimately The To Do List is really just an average entry in the teen sex genre with a gender-swap selling point. The mix of humor and heart as been in the genre since Porky’s and Carey doesn’t do much to elevate her entry above the norm. Some of the gags are particularly tired like a round of pool poo-eating that never should have made the final cut and an endless stream of 90s pop culture gags that run out of steam by the end of the opening credits (example: weren’t video tapes big and bulky?!). Still, there are enough genuine laughs here to make the flick a worthwhile watch if you enjoy the simple cinematic joys of watching horny teens being horny. Carey nails enough scenes and coaxes out enough hilarious performances to suggest that she might have a future in comedy filmmaking. Let’s just hope she aims a little higher next time because we’ve seen everything here before and there are only so many times one can dip into the sex comedy well (see the American Pie series and the subsequent careers of everyone involved for proof).