Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Stocking Stuffers

With Christmas and New Years approaching with their promises of Yuletide slasher mayhem and 2013 roundup lists, it's getting hard to focus on the other reviewing responsibilities I have. Especially the films I didn't have any particular love for.

You see, 2013 was a year filled with mildly promising female-led indie comedies, two of which I watched recently and found mildly enjoyable. That doesn't quite earn them a thousand word review of their very own so I'm gonna slam these two together in one post.

Check them out in between mad dashes to stores for Christmas shopping! You have 14 days, if you need to order something online, do it now!

Year: 2013
Director: Maggie Carey
Cast: Aubrey Plaza, Johnny Simmons, Bill Hader
Run Time: 1 hour 44 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

What could be funnier than a high school sex comedy set in Boise, Idaho in 1993 and cast with TV actors who are by all appearances a decade out of high school? A lot of things, but against all odds The To Do List is actually pretty good.

Brandy Klark (Aubrey Plaza) is a virginal valedictorian who, in the summer after graduation, decides to  learn as much as she can about sex before she heads off to college. With the help of her friends Fiona (Arrested Development's Alia Shawkat) and Wendy (Sarah Steele), she puts together a list of sex acts that she intends to complete during the ensuing months.

As she navigates boys, men, her summer job as a lifeguard at the community pool, and pursuing her studly coworker Rusty (Scott Porter) while avoiding the affections of her nerdy friend Cameron (Johnny Simmons), Brandy learns about love and sex and whatever. It's all very teen movie but at least the love triangle goes somewhere unexpected.

Sex is pretty much always funny no matter how terrible the joke is, so the film has that going for it as well as some stellar 90's gags about skorts, Beaches, and grunge bands (featuring a spot on cameo by Andy Samberg). There are several truly hilarious moments and a great honest message about the nature of teen sexuality by the time we reach the end.

However, a lot of the film's time is spent on the alarmingly numerous side characters in an attempt to squeeze in cameos by Clark Gregg (SHIELD's Agent Phil Coulson) as the obligatory sex-hating father stock character, the lovely Connie Britton (of American Horror Story Season One and Nashville) as Brandy's sex positive nurse mother, Bill Hader (SNL) as a slacker lifeguard, Jack McBrayer (30 Rock's Kenneth Parcel) as a rival pool owner, Rachel Bilson (The OC) as Brandy's older sister, Adam Pally (Happy Endings) as her triflin' fianc√©, Christopher Mintz-Plasse (Kick-Ass and Pitch Perfect) as Cameron's best friend, and Donald Glover (Community) as the world's least essential character. He just sort of exists sometimes.

That paragraph is just as bloated as the film, but the pleasant comedy manages to overcome the cameo overdose through sheer amusingness and 90's nostalgia. It's nothing to write home about, but it's a good way to kill 90 minutes while on a plane or avoiding studying for finals.

Rating: 7/10

Girl Most Likely

Year: 2013
Director: Shari Springer Berman, Robert Pulcini
Cast: Kristen Wiig, Darren Criss, Annette Bening
Run Time: 1 hour 43 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13

The two directors would probably explain the abrupt tonal shifts Girl Most Likely suffers through, but that doesn't alter the fact that they're there.

Imogene (Kristen Wiig) is a struggling playwright who fakes a suicide to get her ex-boyfriend to come visit her. He does not and Imogene is forced by the hospital to live with her gambling-addicted mother (Annette Bening) with whom she has been estranged for some time. 

Also living with them are her developmentally stunted brother Ralph (Christopher Fitzgerald in a role very probably written for Zach Galifianakis) who owns a crab stand on the boardwalk, her mother's new boyfriend George Bousch (Matt Dillon), a sketchy man who claims to both be a CIA agent and a samurai, and Lee (Darren Criss), a handsome boarder who is renting her old room.

She is living in a blanket fort in the living room and if that doesn't spell "indie comedy" to you, I suggest you watch a couple more of the things. It's all very lowest common denominator indie fare and it's peppered with Wiig's usual schtick, but luckily Wiig's schtick is one of the best around so it livens up what could have been a terminally bland affair.

Unfortunately she has to work extra hard to keep up the audience goodwill with a character who is selfish and makes a shocking variety of terrible decisions (an especially notable is one near the end where she seemingly contemplates abandoning her entire family and leaving them to die).

Although the film doesn't cover any ground that Bridesmaids hadn't already - and better - standout scenes like Imogene stealing a book from the library and the totally out of left field final ten minutes are funny enough to justify the film's existence, but not much more than that.

Rating: 6/10
Word Count: 858

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