I remember stumbling upon an internet show called The Jeannie Tate Show a few years back and was instantly smitten with the bumbling shenanigans of the title character. Soccer mom Jeannie Tate, played by Liz Cackowski, is hilariously oblivious to how awkward she makes life for both her daughter — played by Aubrey Plaza — and guest star Bill Hader — who always winds up getting stuck in Jeannie’s mini-van. The Jeannie Tate Show was created by Cackowski, along with Hader’s wife Maggie Carey (who co-wrote and directed the episodes), and now Carey is out to make her big screen directing debut with Aubrey Plaza in the lead as Plaza attempts to lose her virginity in The To Do List.
It’s 1993 and Brandy Klark (Plaza) has just graduated as valedictorian from high school in Boise, Idaho. Brandy’s parents, Mrs. Klark and Judge Clark (Connie Britton, Clark Gregg) couldn’t be more proud of their overachieving daughter, but all Brandy’s friends — Fiona (Alia Shawkat) and Wendy (Sarah Steele) want to do is ditch Brandy’s college prep To Do List and take her to a kegger. At the party is where Brandy meets the older Rusty Waters (Scott Porter), who accidentally makes out with her when he finds her alone in a bedroom. Brandy panics and ruins the moment and she decides that she is going to set out to make a new To Do List covering every sexual base you can think of.
Brandy discovers she had no idea there were so many “jobs” involved with sex and thinks a “shocker” must be some kind of surprise. She gets in over her head when the other boys from her graduating class — including Duffy (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) and Derrick (Donald Glover) — when they think she’s writing some kind of sex manual and decide they want in on the action. But it’s the always-pining Cameron (Johnny Simmons) who wants Brandy to settle down with him as he’s been her unrequited love slave for years. Now Brandy is out to lose her virginity to Rusty if it’s the last thing she does. Even if it means getting “Caddyshacked” at her summer job working for Willy (Hader) at the community swimming pool.
Carey certainly knows her way around some hilarious dialogue, even if her directorial skills seem to never extend beyond static camera placement. The cast is having a lot of fun, especially Hader — who of course steals the show — while Glover is criminally underused. The key to success here, however, totally rests on how much Plaza one can handle. Hilarious in small doses on Parks & Recreation, Plaza seems guided into playing an even more uptight version of April Ludgate and comes off more likeable when she finally gets to just be herself a little more. She may be one-note, and it is a funny note; unfortunately, she’s just not allowed to be as snarky here as we’re used to. Brandy only ever comes off as a bitch – which keeps getting mentioned – but there’s no character arc. She starts out as an anal attentive grammar Nazi and never changes, even when her character is spouting off After School Special diatribes.
The To Do List is trying to be American Pie for girls, and is hilarious, but it starts to wear out its welcome with a too long runtime of 106 minutes. There’s one film that takes place at a swimming pool that needs to be seen this summer — and it’s not The To Do List, it’s The Way, Way Back.
Photos courtesy CBS Films