By Roger Moore
So many “lose my virginity over the summer” comedies, from “American Pie” to “Superbad,” “Can’t Hardly Wait” to “Girl Next Door.”
But aside from the hilarious “Twilight Saga,” how many have told that torrid tale from the girl’s point of view?
“The To Do List” is a summer romantic comedy dedicated to rectifying that imbalance in a single stroke. It follows a methodical, college-bound teen (Aubrey Plaza) who hurls herself at this “problem” through a summer course of study. And what follows is a raunchy romp, a “Bridesmaids” to the “Hangovers” of too many hormonal boy movies about taking that “Virginity Hit.”
Writer-director Maggie Carey has assembled a cast that’s too old to be playing high schoolers, set her story in the early 1990s and come up with a rude, sometimes uproarious comedy that is as filthy as “American Pie,” with just a hint of that film’s sentimental sweetness.
Plaza, of TV’s “Parks and Recreation” fearlessly puts it all out there as a teen who’s put out that she hasn’t “put out.” Her Brandy is nerdy, needy, and more funny / skinny than sexy-thin in a swimsuit. And she is obsessed with making lists. All it takes is a little peer pressure from her supposedly more experienced pals (the hilarious Alia Shawkat and Sarah Steele) to make her add “losing it” to her prep-for-college list — right after “buy shower shoes.”
Filthy Fiona (Shawkat) knows every form of sex and every euphemism for it that 1993 Boise, Idaho, can provide. Brandy, ignoring the insults of her oversexed sis (Rachel Bilson, perfectly cast) and clueless concern of her parents (Clark Gregg and Connie Britton), takes a turn toward sin and away from the Mormon kids’ graduation night party the moment she finishes her valedictorian speech.
Ever on task, she keeps sweet and worshipful Cameron (Johnny Simmons) as a sexual experience backup. But her first day as lifeguard at the local pool, she picks out the hunky Rusty (Scott Porter) and plans her summer’s big finish. Until then, she checks positions, petting variations and foreplay / fooling around items off her sexual “To Do List.”
Plaza is brilliant at playing someone smart and yet blithely incompetent at the social-sexual demands of her peers. “So many ’jobs,’” she astutely observes as Fiona runs down that corner of carnality. Plaza and Bilson make believably shrill sibling rivals, with the bombshell Bilson scoring laugh after laugh with her putdowns.
Bill Hader is the slacker manager of the pool where Brandy tests her methods, Christopher Mintz-Plasse is the would-be player who long ago stole the heart of poor Brandy-pal Wendy (Steele), and Andy Samberg has a cameo as a rocker wannabe.
Like most such comedies, the one-big-idea tends to wear thin and Carey struggles to keep this bouncing along as it traverses that tightrope between and tee-hee and tasteless.
But the blank-faced Plaza never lets up and never lets on that Brandy is on anything less than a quest: for life experience, liberation and — dare we hope it? — love.