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Despite some overly familiar scenes, raunchy comedy puts ticks in all the right boxes

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Aubrey Plaza is valedictorian virgin Brandy Klark, a young woman so focused on experiencing college, she has let other experiences — of a sexual nature — pass her by in To Do List.

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Aubrey Plaza is valedictorian virgin Brandy Klark, a young woman so focused on experiencing college, she has let other experiences — of a sexual nature — pass her by in To Do List.

Teen sex comedies typically execute some daring trapeze moves when it comes to portraying miscellaneous sex acts.

But there is always the safety net of romantic love under the raunch. Over the course of almost all sex comedies, lust eventually gives way to love.

It took a female filmmaker -- first-time writer-director Maggie Carey -- to invert that dynamic with the astringent sex comedy The To Do List. One can't help admire her willingness to fly without that particular net.

The year is 1993, the year Carey herself graduated from high school. It's an epoch that facilitates the kind of audio smut that eventually gave way to parental warning labels on CDs; thank you, Tipper Gore. (The movie's comic tone is pretty much smack halfway between 2-Live Crew's crude Me So Horny and Salt N' Pepa's sensually pragmatic Let's Talk About Sex.)

Aubrey Plaza (the delectably deadpan April of Parks and Recreation) is valedictorian virgin Brandy Klark, a young woman so focused on experiencing college, she has let other experiences -- of a sexual nature -- pass her by.

Fearing that her callowness will put a crimp in her college life, Brandy does what she always does: She makes a list of things she needs to accomplish over the course of the summer. It's time for some sexual catch-up.

Belying the cliché that girls are the ones most likely to succumb to emotions, Brandy is fairly ruthless in notching up one sexual experience after the other, with her ultimate goal being the studly blond lothario Rusty Waters (Scott Porter). She gets some advice from her two besties, Wendy (Sarah Steele) and Fiona (Alia Shawkat), and her unpleasant but infinitely more experienced older sister Amber (Rachel Bilson). Even Mom (Connie Britton) has some womanly, no-nonsense counsel.

It's the guys who are inclined to freak out about Brandy's serial approach to sexuality, including her lovelorn former lab partner Cameron (Johnny Simmons), Willy (Bill Hader, married to the director), her slacker employer at the public pool, and her increasingly panicked dad (Clark Gregg), a judge.

Carey's previous work has been in short films (for the website Funny or Die, among others) and the challenges of the longer form occasionally seem to confound her, resulting in a couple of sequences that look like they were lifted from period comedies, including an elaborate prank at a posh rival pool facility and a gross-out shout-out to the movie Caddyshack.

Fortunately, Carey has enlisted some formidable comic talent, including Plaza, who demonstrates a pretty courageous attitude towards the more outré demands of the sex comedy, and her husband Hader, a reliably funny wild-card comic presence.

Carey's first feature directorial experience is like many a first sexual experience: awkward, often uncomfortable, but pretty satisfying too.

randall.king@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 26, 2013 D1

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