The female raunch comedy has now really come into its own with The To Do List (formerly The Hand Job), and at times shockingly so. But maybe not if you consider biting into feces nothing to sneeze at. Directed and written by Maggie Carey, the spouse of Bill Hader, this is the tale of a 1993 high-school valedictorian, Brandy Clark (Aubrey Plaza), who's apparently the last virgin in Boise, Idaho.
Clearly, no one excels as this self-satisfied know-it-all does when it comes to achieving high grades and achieving leadership positions in extracurricular school activities. But at the social game and anything clitoral, Brandy is a marked loser. In fact, the only boy attracted to her is the sweet-natured cutie Cameron (Johnny Simmons), a fellow virgin and nerd, and he isn't making headway with the ice princess who apparently doesn't have an itch in need of a scratch.
That is, until Rusty Waters (Scott Porter), a tousled-haired blond with muscles to spare, shows up at a keg party Brandy accidentally crashes. Suddenly, Miss Prim and Proper feels very itchy.
Yes, our heroine quickly realizes she does want to get laid by this god with highly developed pectorals, but how? She has no breasts to speak of, she doesn't know how to kiss, and she has photos of Hilary Clinton decorating her bedroom.
Well, maybe you can learn to become a sex siren in the same manner you can earn an A in algebra or A+ in home economics: Create an inventory of topics to study, and check off each one as you become proficient in that area. So Brandy does just that, composing a to-do list of sex acts that her older, trampy sister Amber (Rachel Bilson) informs her about, including masturbation, hand jobs, rim jobs, oral sex, anal sex, fingering, dry humping, motorboating, and some other esoterically erotic options. Slowly, Brandy plans to master each item until she's ready to "lose her cherry" to Rusty.
But will that ever happen? Of course, and how Brandy achieves her goal is quite often laugh-out-loud funny. But this is no Bridesmaids, and 29-year-old Plaza making believe she's a teen is no Kristen Wiig, let alone Melissa McCarthy. The latter two, no matter how crass and absurd the situations they must tackle, always allow you to see the human inside their cartoonish characters. Plaza and many of her sidekicks in The To Do List supply one-note, vacuous characterizations that you can laugh at, but you can't empathize with. There's nothing really genuine about them with a few exceptions,
Connie Britton, for instance, is superb as a very liberal mother who supplies her daughters with lubricant for their vaginas; Porter is indeed engagingly hunky in most of his scenes; and Andy Samberg is highly amusing as a rock star about to orgasm in our Brandy's mouth -- yet is this really a step up for feminism and female comedy?
Cary, instead of raising the bar of farce to the heights, has lowered it to the depths of the pigsty. She's proven that the gals can roll about in the mud just as well as the guys can, but to what end? - Brandon Judell
Mr. Judell is currently teaching "Theatre into Film" and "The Arts in New York City" at The City College of New York and is Coordinator of The Simon H. Rifkind Center. He has written on film for The Village Voice, indieWire.com, the New York Daily News, Soho Style, and The Advocate, and is anthologized in Cynthia Fuchs's Spike Lee Interviews (University Press of Mississippi) and John Preston's A Member of the Family (Dutton). He is also a member of the performance/writing group FlashPoint.