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Movies

Movie Review

‘The To Do List’ delivers humor usually reserved for the boys

In its exuberantly smutty way, “The To Do List” is a revolutionary development: a teen sex comedy where the girls get to play nasty and the boys stand around looking vaguely terrified. It’s the first commercial feature from writer-director Maggie Carey, who back in 2001 made a documentary about women making a porn film. But this is hardly a doctrinaire essay on the evils of the male gaze. On the contrary, “The To Do List” falls neatly into the time-honored “Losin’ It” genre in which putative adolescents played by 20-something Hollywood actors scheme to de-virginize themselves while dodging a steady rain of gross-out gags.

Carey hasn’t busted out of the genre — the jokes-to-duds ratio is about three-to-one; not bad but nothing to overpraise — so much as turned its gender dynamics upside down. That in itself would be enough, but “The To Do List” also has the good fortune to star Aubrey Plaza, a lovely, misanthropic dark cloud of an actress on her way to becoming the Winona Ryder and/or Christina Ricci of her generation. If you’ve seen her on TV’s “Parks and Recreation,” you know Plaza can do dour like nobody’s business; if you had the luck to catch last year’s indie fluke “Safety Not Guaranteed,” you know she has the makings of a wary romantic lead. Here she gets to play in the big tent where the boys usually rule; it’s not a natural fit, but she makes the movie her own.

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