Brandy Klark (Aubrey Plaza), the prim yet irresistibly outrageous valedictorian at the center of The To Do List, is the latest in what has become a big-screen tradition of rambunctious, headstrong Girls With a Plan. Unlike Alicia Silverstone’s compulsive do-gooder in Clueless (1995), or Emma Stone’s how-to-make-a-bad-reputation-work-for-you trickster in Easy A (2010), though, Brandy isn’t an updated version of a hallowed literary heroine. She’s a frisky-minded original. She has gone through high school as an overachiever in everything but life experience. So now that she’s graduated, she plans to make up for that by compiling a to-do list that consists of one graphic sexual activity after another. (Sorry, but there’s just no analogue for that in Edith Wharton.)
Oral sex (giving and receiving), dry humping, a great many other activities that I can’t even print here — Brandy wants to experience them all. And she does. The joke of The To Do List, and it’s a ripe and lively one, is that Brandy is very much a product of the casually explicit hookup era — but at the same time she’s a brainiac who’s treating sexual adventure as one more academic pursuit. She’s out to earn herself an A-plus in desire, but she’s hilariously detached from her own desires.
That sounds like a lot of teenagers. Written and directed by Maggie Carey, The To Do List is a variation on the whole guys-out-to-lose-their-virginity plot, and that’s the film’s originality: It captures how even when sex gets this purposeful, it’s in a different way for girls than for boys. Aubrey Plaza, from Parks and Recreation, has fierce, dark popping eyes that she uses to make Brandy obsessive, romantic, and angelic. Taking place largely at the pool where Brandy lands a job as a lifeguard, The To Do List is a summer-adventure comedy, and its tone is fairly synthetic, yet it gets major props for giving us the first movie heroine who is clueless and easy in such a hardcore way. B+