Brandy Klark, the high schooler played with monumental panache by Aubrey Plaza in The To Do List, has two V's to her credit: She's the class valedictorian, and she's a virgin. She gets ridiculed mercilessly for both.
A sex comedy that could be called the femme-centric American Pie, writer/director Maggie Carey's goofy journey of self-discovery opens with 2 Live Crew's lewd and crude "Me So Horny" bouncing on the soundtrack. The movie's unapologetically straight-up tone is set.
Wearing big glasses and a look of utter guilelessness, Plaza's Brandy is a "mathlete" geek moving on to college - and moving from Boise, Idaho, to Washington, D.C. - in the fall. In the meantime, she takes a job as an assistant lifeguard at the local pool, and takes a vow to lose her virginity, preferably to her hunky surfer-dude lifeguard colleague, Rusty Waters (Scott Porter).
But that's not all. A total novice when it comes to sex, Brandy - in characteristic OCD fashion - compiles a checklist of all the things she must learn, consulting with her two somewhat more-experienced best friends (Alia Shawkat and Sarah Steele) and with her older sister, the way more experienced Amber (a funny, foul-mouthed Rachel Bilson). Brandy and Amber's mother - played straight-faced by Connie Britton - offers her own tips and cautions. The discussions get clinical, and Dad (Clark Gregg), a judge, does not want to hear any of it. Really.
The To Do List looks tacky and cheesy, as befitting its vintage setting. The year is 1993. Brandy keeps a framed photo of her idol, first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, on her desk. Spin Doctors and the Cranberries rule the airwaves. No iPods, no smartphones. The closest thing to a tablet is the looseleaf paper in Brandy's journal, where she dutifully ticks off the boxes on her sexpertise agenda.
The To Do List finds its heroine exploring - with purpose, if not always poise - a pornographer's panoply of sex acts. Brandy experiments with her obliging, crush-heavy classmate, Cameron (Johnny Simmons), but also with other guys (Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Donald Glover - thankfully not at the same time) and with herself.
The movie's big question: Will she hook up with Rusty?
But the movie's bigger answer is that while sex matters - Brandy is almost political about it; it's her right to be pleasured - so, too, do people's feelings. As she blithely pursues her quest, friends get hurt. Suddenly, Brandy finds herself alone.
But never fear. That Beaches VHS tape is ready in the wings. "Wind Beneath My Wings," that is. The To Do List is sex-obsessed, to be sure, but it's a chick flick, too. And in what it says about women (or girls) and men (or boys) and what they want, maybe it's a movie for us all.
The To Do List *** (out of four stars)
Directed by Maggie Carey. With Aubrey Plaza, Johnny Simmons, Alia Shawkat, Scott Porter, Rachel Bilson, and Connie Britton. Distributed by CBS Films.
Running time: 1 hour, 44 mins.
Parent's guide: R (sex, profanity, drugs, alcohol,
Playing at: area theaters
Contact Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow on Twitter @Steven_Rea. Read his blog, On Movies Online, at www.inquirer.com/onmovies.