You can think of “The To Do List” as a female version of “American Pie.” Perhaps because it comes from a female point of view it isn’t as raunchy or extreme as its male counterpart — nor as funny — but it does dip occasionally into sentimentality.
The formula, however, has become familiar to the point of staleness — a mostly young cast of actors and comics gather around a coming-of-age story about young people exploring sexuality in highly dubious though (the filmmakers hope) comic ways so that the protagonist(s) give(s) up his/her virginity on the eve of graduation, prom night, college or whatever.
The movie, written and directed by debutante Maggie Carey, seems to acknowledge the evergreen nature of the storyline — to put it in the most positive context possible — by setting the story 20 years ago.
So jokes about the early Internet, push-up bras, the female cult surrounding the movie “Beaches” and “Growing Pains” actress Tracey Gold reflect the fact that the references may change but the jokes remain the same.
For audiences the success of the film’s comedy may lie in inverse proportion to the viewer’s age. If an adult guardian got you into the R-rated comedy, the jokes about poop in a swimming pool, dry humping and alcohol excess may seem hilarious.
If you’re somewhat older and seen this movie about 100 times, you may reflect on how little has changed since the satyr plays of ancient Greece where actors in animal costumes with attached phalluses ran around in a state of drunken, crazed sexuality.
Carey has the good fortune to bring in the wide-eyed comic actress, “Parks and Recreation’s” Andrey Plaza, as her autobiographical heroine in Boise, Idaho (Carey’s hometown). Plaza makes valedictorian Brandy Klark a charmingly methodical nudnik who attacks all of life’s challenges with a “to-do” list.
Which includes Sex 101.
So beginning with French kissing and progressing through a dry hump, finger bomb and hand job, our Brandy will finally achieve full-on intercourse with her hunk of choice — this being Scott Porter’s muscular Rusty Waters.
En route to this goal she pursues with academic thoroughness, she will alienate her best girl pals (Alia Shawkat and Sarah Steele), run roughshod over the emotions of a boy (Johnny Simmons) who actually likes her nerdy self and amuse the older slacker (Bill Hader) who hires her for a summer lifeguard job.
The script is littered with types as opposed to characters. These include Brandy’s anal retentive dad (Clark Gregg), her very broad minded mom (Connie Britton), slutty sister (Rachel Bilson) and various peripheral boys who hang around to gape or get in on the action.
Brandy has a habit of holding her nose as she chugs down the single beer she requires to loosen up for such activities. (She doesn’t actually like the taste.) While watching this film some viewers may want to do likewise.
The joke wears out in less than a half hour but you’ve got another 70-plus minutes of utterly predictable antics to go. You can only wish Carey had explored more fully why this self-respecting, curious female would give in to peer pressure so easily.
So about all you can do is play spot-the-real-talent for future reference.
Plaza has already become an indie icon, maybe not quite in the status of, say, Greta Gerwig, but enough so that no discovery can be made here. Shawkat and Steele too probably have done too much work to qualify while Simmons is a work-in-progress in a poorly written role.
Hader and Porter display a knowing, self-deprecating wit in otherwise clichéd characters. Ditto that for Bilson who has comic flair to go with her good looks.
So all in all, a talented cast is mostly squandered in an insubstantial (even for a piffle like this) comedy that never escapes its formulaic pedigree. Carey can barely direct and her writing goes too much for the obvious although she shows some flair for period and pop culture.
What needs to land on Carey’s own to-do list is to see more movie comedies so she doesn’t repeat ideas done earlier and in many cases better.
Which is another way of saying “The To Do List” is no “American Pie.”
Opens: July 26, 2013 (CBS Films)
Production companies: Varsity Pictures/Mark Gordon Co.
Cast: Audrey Plaza, Johnny Simmons, Bill Hader, Alia Shawkat, Sarah Steele, Scott Porter, Rachel Bilson, Christopher Miintz-Plasse, Andy Samberg, Donald Glover, Adam Pally
Director/screenwriter: Maggie Carey
Producers: Jennifer Todd, Brian Robbins, Sharla Sumpter Bridgett
Executive producers: Mark Gordon, Maggie Carey, Bill Hader, Tracy McGrath, Greg Walter, Tom Lassally
Director of photography: Doug Emmett
Production designer: Ryan Berg
Music: Raney Shockne
Costume designer: Trayce Gigi Field
Editor: Paul Frank
R rating, 104 minutes