Reporting Eric Henderson
Can we call a truce on post-credit “stingers,” those scenes that give a little Easter egg or at least a half-hearted punchline to viewers who keep their butts in the seats during that interminable six- or seven-minute cascade of names attached to gaffers, second-unit technicians and music needledrops?
Audiences now expect them, but what real function do they serve? At best, they are the equivalent of a pop song fading back in momentarily after the fade out (e.g. “Strawberry Fields Forever”). The effect can be unnerving and creepy; hence, one of the best stingers I’ve ever seen came at the end of the brutal man vs. wolves horror flick in disguise The Grey, when the filmmakers faded back in on the haunting aftermath of the epic showdown they chose not to depict.
At worst, though, they are like the 5-Hour Energy shooters that fuel the hype machine for established franchises. The stinger that closes out The Wolverine is actually a restorative “to be continued” that had virtually everyone in the audience I saw the film with more giddy with anticipation than anything else that happened in the film proper. That’s not giving them what they want, that’s telling them what they want.
Part of the problem with The Wolverine, which is in isolation from its expansive, now multifaceted franchise, is that it’s so off script that it renders the movie itself nothing more than an asterisk, which is the main reason why the fans seemed to psyched to see two big names in the X-Men universe back on board to tease out the exposition for the next installment.
In The Wolverine, Hugh Jackman’s Logan is holed up in the great outdoors of the Yukon, his dreams haunted by the memory of Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), who he killed at the end of X-Men: The Last Stand. Immortal and miserable because of it, he is summoned to Japan by Ichirō Yashida (Haruhiko Yamanouchi), a Japanese soldier whose life he saved by shielding him during the bombing of Nagasaki. Yashida, now a wealthy but crepuscular tech-biz lion, offers Logan the favor of usurping his immortality, in order to continue on in his research. But he dies later that night and his sinister nurse has seemingly usurped his immortality independently. Meanwhile, the Yashida clan is rocked by the implication that the old man willed his entire holdings not to his son Shingen, but instead his granddaughter Mariko (Tao Okamoto), who quickly becomes the target of the Yakuza mafia.
Obviously, director James Mangold shifts the focus in The Wolverine away from mutant combat and over toward martial arts. On that level, the film is actually a solid, predictably violent entertainment. It’s also at least temporarily engaging to see Logan spar with almost every sword-wielding ninja warrior in the seven-prefecture area without being able to fall back on his genetic invincibility.
But that doesn’t change the fact that the movie, which lacks the outcast camaraderie and sense of teamwork that marks the series’ best entries, feels like nothing more than a placeholder for most of its running time, a sense that’s rammed home by the superfluous and yet superseding post-credits stinger.
The technical bona fides of The To-Do List are so offputtingly shoddy and amateurish that I’m tempted to wonder if it was conceived as an extra-long College Humor or Funny or Die sketch (and we all now know Aubrey Plaza is right at home in that milieu), but for the movie’s a) pervasive sexual frankness, which probably wouldn’t be out of character for a FoD bit, and b) predominant sweetness of tone, which decidedly would be out of character.
The To-Do List can be reduced to the simple proof-of-concept statement: “American Pie for girls.” One that ends with its protagonists not trading high fives, but reconciling their differences by singing a chorus of Bette Midler’s “Wind Beneath My Wings.”
Certainly, the movie shares with that 1999 trendsetter a weakness for moments of comedic mortification. But whereas American Pie played out its sexual escapades in the spirit of Rabelaisian ribaldry, The To-Do List is a much more thoughtful, nuanced take on a genre that often writes women into specific corners, and almost never allows them the chance to dictate the rules of the game. If the movie’s technical and narrative lapses are, in the end, too significant to ignore, the freshness of its angle carries it along.
Plaza plays Brandy Klark, a graduating high school senior who has set an all-time record for having the highest GPA, has already been accepted to an Ivy League school on a full ride, and has every last minute of her last summer as a kid mapped out fastidiously. An unyielding control freak, Brandy frets that she’s glided through her formative years without allowing herself to plunge into that messiest of all human experiences: sex.
She trashes her first draft to-do list and pulls an all-nighter (get your minds out of the gutter) to revise the list with a new set of tasks, including such benchmarks as necking, dry humping and, um, “flicking the bean” (alright, get your minds back into the gutter). Her roadmap has her culminating her summer by having sex with Rusty Waters, the ripped, tawny lifeguard who works with Brandy at the neighborhood pool.
Though the rules of comedy dictate that many of her experiences end in some form of humiliation or another, the fascinating thing about The To-Do List is that its main character tackles sexual experiences as just another field of study. She doesn’t hold losing her virginity as the ultimate prize so much as she wishes to broaden her experiences. Of course, she finds that sex isn’t something that can easily be boiled down into trial and error, but how would she have ever learned that without experimenting? The To-Do List isn’t exactly sex positive. More sex inquisitive.