But while The To Do List has its share of Wedding Singer-ish gags (centering around the somewhat more specific 1993 rather than Singer's mid-decade catch-all 1985), its timeline has uses beyond nostalgia on the part of its prospective audience or its writer-director Maggie Carey: it creates a plausible environment of simultaneous sexual openness and cluelessness, keeping graduating high school senior and valedictorian Brandy Klark (Aubrey Plaza) from researching her newfound sexual curiosity on the Internet (although, let's be real: wouldn't a real-life Brandy Klark maybe dial up to a BBS or two in 1993?). Plaza, as a comedian, is known for deadpan surliness, and even though Brandy's uptightness earnestness precludes her usual sarcasm, Plaza's pitiless eyes and monotone are still put to good use. As it turns out, her disaffected hipster persona is not so far off from an irritable nerd.
Brandy's best friends Fiona (Alia Shawkat) and Wendy (Sarah Steele) have wilder streaks, and when they drag her from her college to-do list long enough for a drunken party, Brandy lays eyes on a hot boy, embarrasses herself with her lack of experience, and decides to create a new list: sex stuff to try before she goes off to college. She also gets a job lifeguarding at the local pool run by Willy (Bill Hader, Carey's real-life wife); spars with her older sister Amber (Rachel Bilson, surprisingly well-cast) and, yes, if we must, contends with the affections of a guy she sees only as a friend (Johnny Simmons). After the movie sets up Brandy's list, it's basically a series of sketches allowing Plaza to take the lead in enacting dirty jokes with even more comic guest stars: Andy Samberg (very funny), Donald Glover (sadly underused), Christopher Mintz-Plasse (didn't he graduate in 2007?), and so on. The construction is choppy and the filmmaking not always graceful, but The To Do List is very funny—and to its credit, keeps the rom-com BS to a minimum; Brandy gets to draw some conclusions in re: the big deal about sex that are so worthwhile (and relatively sex-positive and laid back) that it's almost better that they're hit square on the nose. Moreover, the cast is so varied and talented that watching the endless combinations and recombinations of actors becomes sort of like watching a good version of an endlessly 'shipped and re-shipped 90s TV cast. The Way Way Back is this summer's more heartfelt ensemble coming-of-age comedy involving pool maintenance. But The To Do List is a funnier, wilder, and, in its sloppy way, better alternative.
Now we're getting a version of The Wolverine directed by James Mangold that ties directly into the X-Men franchise, which Fox has decided it would like to continue, thanks very much, after the one-two ruin-punch of X-Men: The Last Stand and the last Wolverine picture. At one point, I'm pretty sure this movie was to take place somewhere in the nethertime between the end of the stupid origin movie and the beginning of the quite excellent first X-Men movie; now it takes place in the aftermath of Last Stand and maybe as a prelude to next year's X-Men: Days of Future Past. It's all quite convoluted, but goddammit, I just can't quit the X-Men movies, especially when Fox goes and swerves into making good ones again: X-Men: First Class was great! I don't know if Days of Future Past's upcoming cross-pollination of the two franchise casts will be a mega-movie to end all nerdy ensemble superhero team time-travel sci-fi spectaculars, or just a feature-long retcom at the expense of the promising First Class cast. But while we're waiting to find out, here's James Mangold's The Wolverine, from which I'm getting vibes not unlike that first X-Men that made Jackman a star: a little smaller, a little less ambitious, a little more serious, and surprisingly good? Maybe Jackman will squeeze another six movies out of this character yet.
Since Melinda, many of Allen's movies have veered silly (Scoop; Whatever Works) or serious (Match Point; Cassandra's Dream). But he's also produced some of his weirdest mixtures yet: Vicky Cristina Barcelona, a movie that seems like it should be a sex farce but has plenty of melancholy (and an over-present narrator who steps on the movie's comic and dramatic potential); You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, which blends dark turns out of Match Point and comic discomfort from his darker comedies into an odd sort of fatalism; and now Blue Jasmine, quite possibly the most tonally bizarre movie Allen has ever made. Even the departure of Match Point was presaged by the serious half of Crimes and Misdemeanors, while Blue Jasmine, starring Cate Blanchett as the wife of a Madoff-type scammer (Alec Baldwin) who moves to San Francisco, ruined and penniless, to start over (pro tip: when entering possible poverty, do not move from one of the world's most expensive cities to another of the world's most expensive cities), operates with a swelling unease. Is it funny, to watch this haughty, monied lady get her mental-breakdown comeuppance, or at least act like an oblivious jerk to regular people? Sort of, sometimes. Is it sad to watch Blanchett perform such a vivid breakdown despite her character's lack of empathy? Yes, at times. And it's Blanchett, I think, that keeps Blue Jasmine from veering into Woody's late period neither-here-nor-there fatalism: she's too commanding for you to think much about some underdeveloped side characters. But credit Woody, too: he's still exploring that murky territory between laughter and despair after fortysomething movies.