Setting aside the fact that even young-faced Aubrey Plaza couldn’t quite pull off teenagerdom or enthusiasm–she’s too well-known for being almost 30 and almost never smiling–I completely understand why Maggie Carey, the creator of this weird little Idaho world, cast her. Aubrey Plaza is magnetic in this completely normal sort of way. She’s pretty, but she’s got broad shoulders and probably was too skinny as a kid, and maybe didn’t have a lot of friends. She’s one of those girls who became attractive without anyone realizing it, and now everyone wishes they had realized it sooner. In theory, she has what it takes to pull off the motivated virgin.
Brandy Klark (a horrid character name) is this motivated virgin, a Type-A valedictorian who sticks to her studies until graduation day, then spots a hottie with a body, Rusty Waters (a wonderful character name inhabited by the even more wonderful Scott Porter), and decides to check off every sexual act that could possibly prepare her for intercourse (her words, not mine) with Waters at the end of the summer. Almost instantaneously, she becomes a slut, treating the whole experience as a research project. She never really enjoys it, nor do we ever really figure out if the character is Klark or Plaza or April Ludgate or some inconsistent hybrid of all of them. But that’s not the point; the point is that she’s approaching sex with supreme objectivity and frankness, and Carey’s unique, unfiltered take on teenage sexuality is a welcome respite from all the giggly crap we’ve seen in movies up until this point.
Brandy’s friends, played by the slightly more age-appropriate Alia Shawkat and Sarah Steele, don’t treat her any differently because she’s a virgin, and that’s truly lovely. They’re more like bawdy guardian angels, guiding her through her various conquests whilst providing hilarious commentary with each successive embarrassing story. And Brandy’s male friends, ranging from Cameron (Johnny Simmons), the dude who has a crush on her; to Duffy (Chris Mintz-Plasse), the dude who will hump anything; to Derrick (Donald Glover), the dude who should have had his shirt off more, aren’t unrealistically fawning over each of the girls, either. They’re teenage boys who are obsessed with sex, but they are also scared, and that’s fine. The over-arching feeling that all of them have is frustration, but with a healthy dose of indifference thrown in. They’re past the point of puberty; they don’t really know what they want. Their personalities are still developing.
Of course, The To Do List is a comedy, so those deeper issues of personality and life goals and huge decisions aren’t really covered in depth, but Carey’s writing showed a lot of potential to cover them in the future. She cast her husband, Bill Hader, as the manager at the pool where all of these weirdos work, and Rachel Bilson as Brandy’s older sister. Both characters gave these actors a chance to shine (Hader is truly amazing; he’s a silly dude in interviews, but he can bring almost any emotion to the screen) and showcased Carey’s decision to give the voice of reason to slightly older but slightly less mature figures, instead of to the parents. I applaud that, because parents don’t always have the answers, and kids more than likely don’t want to ask them, either. It’s just a shame in the case of this movie, because the parents were played by Connie Britton and Clark Gregg, who are basically national treasures unto themselves. Britton’s hair should have its own monument.
I’m really looking forward to seeing what Carey does with her next movie. She’s got a touch of brassiness to her writing, but not in an overtly girl-power-ish way. In fact, gender really has nothing to do with it. She’s unafraid to make the weird joke, or write the weird scene, or tell the actor to give the weird look. Flattering angles be damned; this was high school. No one looked great.
Oh, and the masturbation scene that everyone’s talking about isn’t that crazy. Calm down, y’all.