Friday, December 20, 2013

Penny Thoughts ‘13—The To Do List (2013) **

R, 104 min.
Director/Writer: Maggie Carey
Starring: Aubrey Plaza, Johnny Simmons, Bill Hader, Alia Shawkat, Sarah Steele, Scott Porter, Rachel Bilson, Christopher Mintz-Plaase, Andy Samberg, Donald Glover, Adam Pally, Clark Gregg, Connie Britton

Maggie Carey’s “The To Do List” is another coming of age movie set during summer break. I don’t like how I’m getting to see these at Christmas time, but that’s just how things work out with a Netflix queue sometimes. Anyway, this coming of age story sets its focus on the teenage obsession with sex.

Valedictorian Brandy Klark is one of those people who control everything in her life. With a full ride to her college of choice, the only thing she feels she has yet to conquer is sex. In fact, she knows nothing about it. After her two best friends take her to an end of school year kegger instead of her planned non-alcohol end of year party with the Mormons, she decides to make herself a new To Do List for the summer that will lead her to the loss of her virginity to her dream hunk, Rusty Waters.

Rusty Waters? I feel like the names in this movie came out of some screenplay name generator program. Certainly the story could’ve as well, but its specific enough to make it non-derivative. It’s actually quite refreshing to see the teenage sex angle shown from a female point of view. That made the movie watchable, but not great.

I think my biggest problem was with the casting. Although I believe more movies should star actresses like Aubrey Plaza as their heroine, she’s too old for the part. In fact, I could only believe one of the main characters as a teenager, and I’m sure even he was older than he looked. And how long will Alia Shawkat play the precocious teen. She began her run on “Arrested Development” over 10 years ago. There were even some points to be made about the appropriateness of the age of some of the men from whom Brandy seeks out her sexual experience, but since there was little age gap apparent between her and the adult men in the film, these issues lost their impact.

There’s also a tonal problem with the movie. It’s a comedy, but sometimes the comedy is played subtly, and sometimes it’s over the top. Again, there’s nothing wrong with that, except for the fact that it seemed as if they always had these two approaches reversed from what they should be. When it seemed something over the top was called for, it came off as too subtle. When an actor seemed as if they should have been more controlled, their reactions were over the top. I think Clark Gregg as Brandy’s father best exemplifies this. Gregg is generally a subtle actor, but he always seems to be pushing his expressions here. It seems more like a directional choice than one by the performer. Carey seems to see the father figure as a powder keg, which would suggest that Gregg may not have been the best choice for the role although he is a natural father figure.

It’s too bad the execution doesn’t quite work here, because the material is worthy of a nice comedy vehicle. It’s set in the early nineties, and a little too much emphasis is placed on the pop culture referencing of the time. Crisper dialogue and a more even tone would’ve benefitted the film better than securing its period setting so firmly in the audience’s minds. This could’ve been a classic coming of age movie had it just gone through another rewrite or two.

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