Aubrey Plaza and Rachel Bilson in The To Do List
  • Photo by Bonnie Osborne
  • Aubrey Plaza and Rachel Bilson in The To Do List

Now playing

At first, The To Do List seems another summer teen sex comedy, and it delivers—but with surprising poignancy, while also leaving the audience nostalgic for the early ’90s.

In the innocent summer of 1993, iPhone-less interactions drive the film as the era itself becomes a character with its own punch lines and personality. References to VCRs, an early “boo-ya” shaved into buzz-cut heads and the frequent interjection of “LOSER!” (complete with an L-shaped hand to the forehead) balance the grotesque and the raunchy.

We meet Brandy Klark at her high school graduation. She’s a Hillary enthusiast, president of the Mathletes and the creator of a recently published zine entitled “Womyn with a Y.” Played by a believably naïve and callous Aubrey Plaza, Brandy’s drive to succeed in her summer quest to check things off a to-do list of sexual feats while working her first job as a lifeguard leads to a whirlwind of ridiculous situations.

Apart from the comedic bits, the film is noteworthy for its representation of young women taking complete control of their own sexuality, not necessarily for the sake of falling in love, but because they want to enjoy sex. Also, the film departs from convention in its representation of male sensitivity, displayed as Brandy breaks the heart of a boy who proceeds to fall apart, requiring the emotional support of his friends.

The majority of The To Do List chronicles Brandy’s pursuit of a one-dimensional approach to what “growing up” means. By the end, the movie pounds out a clear and under-enunciated theme: Having sex for the first time can be some gratifying magic moment, or it can suck. And more importantly, if it does suck, that’s completely fine.