“The To Do List” Casting Review

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

A summer season of movies wouldn’t be complete without some kind of raunchy teenage comedy, and The To Do List fills that role perfectly. This R-rated romper revolves around new high school grad “Brandy Clark” – a straight-A student with zero sexual experience. Determined to be “fully prepared” for college life, Brandy, played by Parks and Recreation’s Aubrey Plaza, makes it her mission to gain more sexperience during her summer vacation, culminating in losing her virginity to hunky college student “Rusty Waters”.  Although the let’s-lose-our-virginity concept is anything but original, it works well here, and offers a refreshing and more modern take on the genre – despite the fact that the film’s story is set in the 90s.

This “modernization” is achieved by the fact that the story is told through the eyes of a strong female character and buoyed by a well-assembled cast of actors. Plaza is brilliant in the lead role, and watching Brandy stumble from one awkward sexual experience to another is side-splittingly hilarious. The highlight of Plaza’s character however is the fact that she herself isn’t really awkward in any of her exploits. The situations themselves are awkward, and her co-stars are often the ones feeling the pressure. Brandy, on the other hand, approaches every encounter with stone-faced gusto and academic zeal, and only Aubrey Plaza can make giving someone a handjob look as important as disarming a bomb.

Plaza’s performance is only further bolstered by her fellow cast mates, all of whom offer their own brand of humor and chemistry into the mix. Arrested Development’s Alia Shawkat plays Brandy’s more sexually experienced best friend, while SNL’s Bill Hader plays Brandy’s down-on-his-luck boss at the community swimming pool. The rest of Brandy’s peers are rounded out by Johnny Simmons, Donald Glover, Scott Porter, and Christopher Mintz-Plasse. Simmons has been making quite the name for himself and has played great teenager roles in notable movies like The Perks of Being a Wallflower, 21 Jump Street, and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World to name a few. In The To Do List, he plays”‘Cameron”, Brandy’s “study buddy” who also happens to harbor a huge crush on her. Glover, from NBC’s comedy Community, has an energetic presence that is infectious, and he shares that energy with Plaza’s Brandy as he helps her tick off a task on her to do list. Friday Night Lights heartthrob Scott Porter slides into the role of Rusty seamlessly, and even adds a good amount of depth to the role – he’s not just the hot jock, he’s actually sensitive and has feelings! Finally, no awkward teenage comedy would be complete without Mintz-Plasse – it’s actually hard to imagine any teen comedy these days without him at least making a cameo.

Besides for Brandy’s friends and sexual conquests, it’s also important to note her family dynamic. Connie Britton and Clark Gregg play Plaza’s supportive parents while Rachel Bilson plays the hot and bitchy older sister. Britton and Gregg, for the most part, play it straight which helps to ground the film and keep things from getting too ridiculous and over the top. Gregg however is one of the few actors that can make almost any situation funny, regardless of how serious he’s being a la Nathan Fillion or Nick Offerman. Gregg’s natural humor easily seeps out through his character of ‘George’ an old-fashioned judge who is consistently shocked when all the women in his life (wife and daughters) reveal their various sexual proclivities to him, mostly through graphic and forward encounters. The scene with Gregg, Bilson, and Hader’s characters is priceless.

The key to any successful ensemble cast is chemistry and The To Do List has that in spades. All of the characters play off each other so well, which helps to make all the comedic moments even funnier and the heartfelt moments more sincere. This chemistry isn’t surprising considering that so many of the actors on this film have worked with each other in some degree or form. Bill Hader and Andy Samberg have their SNL connection; Aubrey Plaza worked with Johnny Simmons on Scott Pilgrim vs. the World; Connie Britton worked with Scott Porter on the TV series Friday Night Lights; Porter works with Rachel Bilson on the CW series Hart of Dixie; and Hader worked with Christopher Mintz-Plasse on Superbad – just to name a few. Although actors constantly working with each other on different films, (especially films of the same genre where the actors plays the same kinds of characters) can get kind of tiring at times, this problem is often mitigated in large ensemble casts where it’s almost always a fun novelty in and of itself to see so many different actors all together in one piece, especially when everyone gels together so well like they do here.

As previously mentioned, one of the film’s strongest qualities by far is its constant reversal and modernization of themes and genres, which is aided by the overall cast. Plaza’s portrayal of Brandy Clark is fully realized and she’s not your average awkward teenager trying to lose her virginity – she’s a modern day feminist that views gaining sexual experience as just another form of education that she needs to add to her resume. She’s not your typical damsel in distress waiting to be swept off her feet by some boy! Brandy’s assertive nature only further accentuates the reversed gender norms in the film – specifically for all the guys that she encounters. Simmons is overly-sensitive and is heartbroken when he realizes that Brandy only used him for sex, while Porter’s Rusty, although seemingly macho and confident, is shown to be quite “old-fashioned” and almost insecure when he gets his chance to tumble with Brandy. Ultimately, the cast in The To Do List is expertly assembled, which is only further validated by the film’s constant laugh out loud yet subtly thought-provoking moments. Make sure to add watching this movie to your to do list.

 

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Kyle

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