Thursday, July 25, 2013

Raunch done right: Stick Maggie Carey's funny/smart THE TO DO LIST on yours.

It's a shame about that "R" rating, for THE TO DO LIST is the kind of movie you'd want adolescents to see and discuss. But they won't be able to get in unless you accompany them. So get ready. If America were the kind of adult society we often to claim to be -- fundamentalists of all stripes aside -- any film that explored sex and sexuality with the novelty, charm, intelligence, fun and, yes, raunch (the real thing, not the pseudo variety we more often get) of this one would be embraced. But these films are usually rejected out of hand : Look at Jon Kasdan's so-good-you-probably-didn't-even-hear-of-it The First Time, or the Scandinavian whoopie cushion Turn Me On, Dammit. To those and a very few others, we can add this new, very funny, envelope-pushing movie from writer/director Maggie Carey, below.

Rauch is a tricky thing to handle on film, and Ms Carey's movie is full of it. Getting your cast on the same page (and tone) about what you're doing is one important way to proceed. Then you just hope your audience comes aboard. It takes us and the film a little while to find our footing, but there are enough surprises and laughs along the way to keep us alert and interested. Slowly we're won over, as we watch and identify more and more with the movie's heroine, Brandy -- a smart performance from Aubrey Plaza (below and on poster, above) of Parks & Rec fame and Safety Not Guaranteed. Ms Plaza will hit 30 next year, but she still manages to make a relatively believable teenager -- looks-wise and (more important) emotionally. Most important (for our and the movie's edification), Plaza is funny and versatile -- going from controlling nerd to sexy young woman and hitting just about every stop in between.

Set in Boisie, Idaho, in 1993, the plot hangs on the idea that a just-graduated-from-high-school young woman who is still a virgin, in order to "lose it," come hell or high water, over the coming summer, makes that titular "list" of important steps along the way to deflowering. This is not especially far-fetched, although, in this day and age, a girl who graduates from high school a virgin is probably a relative rarity.

The movie's ace-in-the-hole is sex -- not so much the thing itself but the attitude toward it of everyone in the film. Most of Brandy's peers give it the kind of all-out embrace that makes it essential but somehow empty, while Brandy and her two best friends (played by Sarah Steele, above, center, and Alia Shawkat, above, right) are hopeful but properly skittish about what it is and what it means.

Brandy's sleazy sister -- the pretty, funny and properly raunchy Rachel Bilson -- uses sex (along with other people) for her own benefit, while the sisters' parents (Connie Britton and Clark Gregg, both pricelessly on-the-mark, as always) have their own agenda: She's all for it and, in fact, wants to help it along (with lubricant); Dad says no, of course -- until the usual pretense of true love and waiting-till-the-wedding go along with it.

The females of The To Do List are a good deal smarter and more receptive than the males, but Ms Carey does not make her men into pigs (not complete pigs, at least). The three most prominent are played by Scott Porter (the hunk), Johnny Simmons (above, right, as the best friend) and Bill Hader (below, who plays the boss at the outdoor community swimming pool at which Brandy finds a summer job).  Mr. Hader's role bears no small resemblance to that of Sam Rockwell's in The Way, Way Back, though the two charac-ters and the tone of the two films could hardly be more different.

The movie also features funny turns from Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Donald Glover, and a nearly unrecognizable Andy Samberg. By the time our heroine has discovered sex -- and how different it can be, depending on the partner --  I suspect that you will be so firmly ensconced in the movie's attitude and philosophy that you may be surprised at yourself. I hope so, anyway. And though the film flirts with some feel-good sentimentality toward the end, it smartly draws back just in time.

The To Do List, a kind of stealth groundbreaker/troublemaker, is a film that teenagers -- hell, adults, too -- will be all the better for having seen.

The movie, via CBS Films (which seems to have disowned The To Do List, if its web site is any indication) and running 104 minutes, opens tomorrow, Friday, July 26, all over the place. Click here, and then enter your zip code under Find Tickets & Showtimes, to find the theater nearest you.

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