Almost every summer, a comedy tends to come along that stands high above not just the other comedies of that summer but ultimately above the whole year’s. The last decade’s summers have given the world Napoleon Dynamite, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Clerks II, the original Death at a Funeral, Tropic Thunder, In the Loop, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Bridesmaids, and last year’s criminally underseen 2 Days in New York. 2013 has now delivered The To-Do List.
Written and directed by Maggie Carey, The To-Do List takes the summertime coming-of-age story used in everything from Meatballs to Adventureland and finds freshness in the material by flipping convention on its head whenever possible.
Aubrey Plaza plays Brandi Klark, a high school valedictorian who discovers at a post-graduation party that all her book smarts have left her completely ignorant and hopeless in the world of sex. With her freshman year of college a few months away, Brandi decides to spend the summer educating herself. (Her checklist of acts to master gives the comedy its title.)
Crude comedies walk a very fine line. For every The 40-Year-Old Virgin that’s worked, there are ten My Boss’s Daughters that didn’t. The To-Do List could easily have become just another lewd comedy, but the movie invests so much of its time in the rich subplots of all the friends and family members of Brandi’s that it never gets too carried away with things. The story arcs involving Brandi’s boss (Bill Hader), her best friends (Alia Shawkat and Sarah Steele), and her family (Connie Britton, Clark Gregg, and Rachel Bilson) are all as rewarding as the central storyline.
The movie also makes the very interesting choice of setting the movie in 1993. While that could have come off as a cheap excuse to cash in on ‘90s nostalgia and get some laughs out of parachute pants, The To-Do List again perfectly straddles the line between being hypocritical and being toothlessly reverent. The ‘93 setting leads also to a bounty of cultural references and a fantastic soundtrack.
After the let-downs of The Incredible Burt Wonderstone and This is the End, the summer of ‘13 was looking pretty barren for laugh-out-loud comedies. Sure enough, though, one summer comedy always steps forward and stands above the rest. The To-Do List is going go down as being one of the best comedies of 2013.