Monday, November 11, 2013
The Cinema File #273: "The To Do List" Review
Born in December of 1985, I so wish I could claim the mantle of being an 80's kid, when music was great, toys were still awesome, and the television and film I would now be nostalgic for actually deserved to be nostalgically remembered. Alas, though my tastes have always reflected a slightly older demographic and I have since become well versed in the best and worst of the Reagan years, I must admit that my own personal direct experience is firmly entrenched in the 90's. I didn't even get the chance to grow up with the silly 80's like Wham and Boy George, I had Rico Suave and Vanilla Ice. And yet, strangely enough, my sense of generational ennui has apparently come full circle of late, as at a mere 27 years old it would seem I am old enough to have an “Oldies” station dedicated to the terrible music I grew up on, and to have 90’s centric movies like The To Do List forcing me to remember all that I would hope to forget. And as you would expect, even the rose colored glasses of nostalgia can’t make this shit any better than it was 20 years ago.
The To Do List follows a young, I assume typical 90’s teenage girl utilizing her hyper-organizational skills to brush up on the ins and outs of sexuality before what she believes to be the make or break sexual exam that is college life. Now, I stress the fact that The To Do List is set in the 90’s only to emphasize just how arbitrary that narrative choice is to this utterly pointless movie. This is a story that could easily have been told in a contemporary setting, and given the relative attitudes regarding sexual promiscuity between then and now, probably would have made more sense to be set today rather than back when Gloria Stienem was still relevant. Then again, if this movie weren’t set in the 90’s, 75% of the jokes wouldn’t work, and when I say jokes, what I really mean to say is references to things that existed in the decade meant to elicit the most hollow of laughter purely upon recognition of a thing you remember doing or seeing or having in the 90’s. Hey, remember Trapper Keepers? What about Beaches? That was a thing, wasn’t it? Are you laughing yet?
The To Do List feels like the 90’s version of The Wedding Singer, which is to say a flimsy pretext for nostalgic pandering, only without the charm and innocence of pre-Jack and Jill Adam Sandler. The thing is, when you do a nostalgic romp like this, the point is to remind the target audience how silly they were back then, and also how much fun they had, but this movie seems to hit a wall when it realizes we didn’t really have any fun in the 90’s, so instead it becomes “remember how silly we were back then, and how much we hated ourselves.” The charm is thus replaced with shrill, soulless characters being crude purely for the sake of being crude. Oh yeah, that’s right, before I forget, when I said that 75% of the jokes were 90’s references, the other 25% are predicated on the hilarious juxtaposition of a sexually inexperienced girl referring to increasingly filthy sexual acts with the same matter of fact naivete and blank expression, because apparently there are only so many Hillary Clinton jokes you can make before you have to switch over to another equally shallow structure.
There is absolutely no reason to see this movie, and every reason to avoid it like the venereal diseases no doubt caught by every character in the film. It almost willfully and spitefully skips past simply not being funny and boars full on into outright offensively annoying. Its attempts to relate to its target audience of people who for some reason look back on shit like Beverly Hills 90210 with fondness are shameless and insulting, and the rest of it is just monotonous vulgarity delivered via the one fucking expression Aubrey Plaza appears to be capable of. To say that her shtick gets old fast would belie that fact that it got old before this movie was even made. Perhaps it is too much to ask that we consign this movie to the same grave as the decade it loves to reference and just bury all of this shit forever in a cave somewhere, as I strongly suspect the unearned and undeserved reverence for all things 90’s is only going to get worse from here. Still, the least you can do is not reward the people who try to bring it back from the dead.