It's the summer 1993 where 29-year old Aubrey Plaza (Parks and Recreation, Safety Not Guaranteed) plays a sexually curious high school student in writer/director Maggie Carey's comedy The To Do List (formerly known as "The Hand Job"). Carey blends many different elements and genres together from the high school, romantic, and teen sex comedies along with nostalgia of the 1990s. The film can be very funny with an embarrassingly rich cast of gifted comedians but its remarkably uneven in how it follows Plaza's Brandy Klark and her misadventures in sex.
Klark sets out to reform her bookish, uptight, conservative, virginal ways and lose all her sexual inhibitions before going to college. She approaches her sexual awakening the same way as her studies by writing a detailed list and doing her homework. Plaza struggles to carry the film on her shoulders by remaining deadpan in her cartoonish naïvety through some pretty raunchy and graphic material. It's very literal and blunt about the sexual subject matter.
The film builds so much goodwill with its talented, likeable cast and premise. However, it soon wastes the audience attention with a plethora of redundant jokes centred on its 1990s setting in Boise, Idaho. Way over the top, we get bombarded by remarks about VHS, denim everything, bad music, and dated fashion. Despite some hilarious scenes and interactions, the film lacks any worthwhile personalities or subjects to cling onto. It gets in the way of its own comedic momentum as it feels like a sketch gone too long.
It's too bad so many elements of the film are mixed together and hurt its overall construction with a slow pacing struggling to juggle its large cast with an inconsistent tone. It largely wastes amusing comedic turns from Bill Hader (Carey's husband), Johnny Simmons, Scott Porter, Alia Shawkat, Rachel Bilson (very funny as Plaza's mean, promiscuous sister), Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Andy Samberg, Donald Glover, Connie Britton, and Clark Gregg.
The To Do List does excel in portraying the female comedic perspective and embracing women's sexuality from its characters, writing, and direction. It has a lot of fun reversing the roles of the usual teen sex comedy fare as girls instead of boys are struggling to discover their own sexuality amidst mass confusion before the internet generation. Unfortunately, it relies far too heavily on a passing nostalgia of the '90s and elements of the workplace comedy (set here at a community pool) . It's funny and charming but more so, uneven and middling in its execution. The cast deserves better.