The To Do List: Aubrey Plaza Breaks New Comedy Ground in Her First Leading Role


She may play a devoted wife on NBC’s hit comedy Parks and Recreation, but Aubrey Plaza still has some wild oats to sow.

The 29-year-old actress, who has gradually risen to fame with her signature coolly deadpan style, will next star in the racy comedy The To Do List, in which she plays Brandy, a high school graduate with some very specific goals for her summer before college.

The film, which premieres on July 26, is the feature debut of writer-director Maggie Carey, who developed the project with Plaza in mind.

A raunchy coming-of-age comedy, The To Do List is set in 1993, but is told from a 21st-century feminist’s point of view. Carey recently told Entertainment Weekly that the 1990s setting is deliberate, saying, “I do think the ’90s setting as a backdrop for the movie does also play with Brandy’s character because she has a lot of naïveté to her. She so badly wants the knowledge but can’t get it. And in the ’90s, before the Internet, you couldn’t Google, you had to actually talk to your friends about it and ask them, so that also adds to the awkwardness of it.”

Brandy, Plaza's first leading role, is a straitlaced, frenetically organized high school valedictorian who decides she needs to complete a sexual checklist before starting college in the fall.

“(Plaza) creates what may be a new screen archetype: the randy, brainy, politically savvy teenage girl,” according to New York Times writer Melena Ryzik.

The Safety Not Guaranteed actress is having something of a moment. Her wry, poker-face humor has been used as part of a Microsoft advertising campaign, and NBC’s beloved Parks and Recreation, which features Plaza as April Ludgate, has been renewed for a sixth season. For better or worse, Plaza also provided us with a memorable moment at this year’s MTV Movie Awards, when she crashed Will Ferrell’s acceptance speech with the words “The To Do List” and the film's opening date scrawled across her chest (Ferrell played along, but Plaza was still ejected from the building).

Plaza is staying busy with three new films in the works, including a project with Up in the Air and Pitch Perfect star Anna Kendrick, another rising talent. Horror-comedy Life After Beth is a zombie flick with female leads that is filming in Los Angeles. Plaza stars as the eponymous Beth, a dead girlfriend who comes back to life to stir up trouble.

Plaza's acting career began with small roles in films like Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and Funny People, but her work in entertainment started with an internship at Saturday Night Live, where she worked in the arts department.

Plaza met Carey when they were both taking classes at New York's Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre, the comedy venue cofounded by Saturday Night Live cast member and Parks and Recreation star Amy Poehler. Plaza quickly became known for her work at the theater.

According to Poehler, the real-life Plaza is “goofier” than her character April on Parks and Recreation. “Nobody loves to play pretend more than Plaza,” Poehler told the New York Times, adding, “There’s a fun little dangerous quality about working with her because she’s fearless, and she’s paying attention.”

Plaza has emerged as an interesting contender in the entertainment world. We’ll see if The To Do List can establish her as a queen of comedy. She certainly seems to be well on her way to becoming one.