THE TO DO LIST. Aubrey Plaza in a comedy that has a certain serious problem

In “The To-Do List,” the audience is supposed to be amused by the complete mixing of orders.

Filip Jalowski

23 January 2024

The school ends, and the holidays begin. Young Americans joyfully toss their graduation caps into the air and prepare to leave their family homes. Ahead of them lies life in a dormitory surrounded by legends—a cave of various pleasures and a forge of sexual escapades. Brandy Klark doesn’t fully understand the excitement of her friends. She is the top graduate in the history of her high school. She despises alcohol, avoids sex, doesn’t kiss, and steers clear of parties because atavistic pleasures are too humiliating for her. However, after a prank by her friends, Brandy finds herself at a party organized to celebrate their graduation. Among beer kegs, red cups, and teenagers indulging in the pleasures of Beer Pong, she notices Rusty Waters—a muscular, long-haired blond playing the role of Eddie Vedder from Pearl Jam. This is where the idea of creating “the to do list” is born.

Rusty is the ultimate item on the list to be checked off. However, Brandy realizes that while her friends were gaining romantic experiences, she was navigating through the intricacies of equations and definitions. As a math Olympian who must have a sharp mind and an analytical approach to reality, Brandy sits down at her desk and creates a list of sexual activities that must be in her portfolio before leaving for college. The list is quite extensive and includes points that definitely do not fit into the canon of polite sex with dimmed lights and a blanket pulled up to the neck.

In “The To Do List,” the audience is supposed to be amused by the complete mixing of orders. Here, the overachiever enters the arena previously reserved for silly cheerleaders and Barbie dolls who treat a ride in the football player’s back seat as another achievement to add to their resumes. What’s even funnier is that Brandy doesn’t transform into a stereotypical blonde. She remains a sharp observer who treats checking off each sexual activity as completing another stage of a physics task. Her list includes a column for comments, the date of the activity, and the partner—only lacking a place for feelings because Brandy is totally uninterested in that.

However, there is a significant problem with Maggie Carey’s film, quite serious for a comedy. “The To Do List” is not funny. The idea for the film is exhausted too quickly because how much can you laugh at jokes revolving around checking off items on a list or the disgusted look of a father who can’t come to terms with his younger daughter’s awakening sexuality? Moreover, the whole scientific approach of Brandy, who calls home to ask for details about penis anatomy while examining a colleague’s crotch, is more cringe-worthy than smile-inducing. It turns out that crude jokes need to be told skillfully. Carey clearly struggles with that.

The film also suffers from complete predictability. Controversy here is just a show. In reality, “The To Do List” is a thoroughly schematic, filled with stereotypes and clichés, tale of the American rite of passage—moving to college. Many films have approached this topic in an extraordinary and memorable way; others have opted for total absurdity. “The To Do List” belongs to yet another group—it wants to entertain and teach, ultimately failing on both fronts.

Maggie Carey’s film is as shallow as the idea of her main character. It suffers from an almost complete lack of good humor and taste. Nevertheless, if someone finds humor in eating poop mistaken for a Snickers and a series of jokes about brewing a tea bag, go ahead, although the moralistic chatter will probably spoil the final effect for you anyway.”