Much like its main character, the raunchy romp “The To Do List” tries too hard to find too much enjoyment for too long.
A star vehicle for Aubrey Plaza (NBC's “Parks and Recreation,” “Safety Not Guaranteed”), who puts a slight twist on her usual deadpan schtick, the low-budget coming-of-age story is the rare teen sex comedy written from the female perspective, which makes its shortcomings all the more frustrating.
Set in Boise, Idaho, in 1993, the movie chronicles the misadventures of overachieving, self-serious valedictorian Brandy Klark (Plaza), who has spent her high school years earning a berth to Georgetown. Her gal pals Fiona (Alia Shawkat) and Wendy (Sarah Steele) are determined to show Brandy a good time before her senior year officially ends, so they haul her to a post-graduation kegger.
At the party, Brandy swoons over studly college guy Rusty Waters (Scott Porter) and sets a new summer goal: to lose her virginity to him before she goes off to college. Brandy uses her well-honed study skills to create a new to-do list of sexual milestones she will conquer before moving on to actual intercourse.
In the pre-Google era, the strait-laced straight-A student must depend on trial and error, magazine articles and the sometimes dubious advice of her buddies, her trampy older sister Amber (Rachel Bilson) and her open-minded mother (Connie Britton), who is a nurse. Brandy's uptight father (Clark Gregg), a judge, freaks out at the thought of his little girl becoming a woman.
Brandy approaches her new to-do list with the same focus she does her homework, and she's not picky about who she gets to help her check off her goals, from smarmy schoolmate Duffy (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) to stoner singer Van (Andy Samberg). She even tries to seduce guys at the pool, where she works as a lifeguard alongside Rusty and her fawning best pal Cameron (Johnny Simmons) and is the favorite hazing target of her slacker supervisor, Willy (Bill Hader).
An alumna of New York's acclaimed Upright Citizens Brigade improv troupe, writer-director Maggie Carey (Hader's wife) loosely based the story on her own experiences, and she gets the period details spot-on, with jokes about complicated skorts and Ford Festiva automatic seat belts landing perfectly.
But too many of the bawdy gags fall flat and feel contrived, and when one of your most memorable moments is an homage to “Caddyshack,” it's just not a good sign. There's a sense the first-time feature director is trying to one-up “American Pie” and its ilk, and the story's focus is sometimes as addled as a hormonal teenager's thought processes.
It deserves points for taking risks and making the effort to bring a new perspective to a familiar genre, but “The To Do List” ultimately fails to make the grade.
— Brandy McDonnell