The 1990s were a very distinct decade in music – Seattle became the birth place of grunge, putting on a memorable live performance became just as important as releasing an amazing album, and boy bands dominated the end of the decade with a fever pitch that reverberates to this day (see: The Package Tour). The 1990s also saw a number of movies with fantastic soundtracks that truly represented the decade (Singles, Clueless, Can’t Hardly Wait), but The To Do List is one of the first films to come out in the aftermath of the ’90s that takes audiences right back to the days of Naughty By Nature, The Cranberries, Mazzy Star, and Salt-n-Pepa.
The soundtrack for The To Do List is, as one would imagine, filled with “sexy” songs which play to the plot of the film which has Brandy Klark (Aubrey Plaza) running through a laundry list of sexual exploits with a laser focus on losing her virginity before heading off to college. While the soundtrack is certainly tongue-in-cheek, the film takes things one step further by choosing to have two of its characters also reflect the music scene that permeated this decade.
Andy Samberg plays Van, the front-man of a Pearl Jam-esq band in Brandy’s home town. Not only does Samberg nail the look, he also gets the sound by performing “Quarantine,” an original song that sounds like it could have come straight out of the decade.
Written by the film’s composer, Raney Shockne, along with Damian Valentine, “Quarantine” is fresh and new while still sounding like a song you already know.
Writer/director Maggie Carey and her production were smart to have Shockne and Valentine write a new song for this scene rather than having Van’s band play a cover or use a well-known song to set up a joke (a tactic that is done in the film, but at another moment where it works much better). While it is clear Van is mirroring his performance after some other famous rock front men of the time, the passion Samberg brings to the performance (reflecting any small town musician with rock star dreams) works to take you back to this specific point in music history and the kinds of musicians people aspired to be.
Scott Porter plays the bullet point at the end of Brandy‘s list as the lust-worthy Rusty Waters. Unlike Van, Rusty isn’t in a band (that we see, anyway) and is first spotted playing a slowed down, acoustic version of Def Leppard’s “Pour Some Sugar On Me” to a group of starry eyed girls. This scene is played for a laugh, but works as yet another moment where music is infused into the story in an organic way. It also subtly hints that Rusty may not have it as together as it seems when he is playing a hard rock anthem from the ’80s in the middle of a party distinctly set in the Pog Decade (see Donald Glover’s bright yellow overalls).
Where Van channels Eddie Vedder, Rusty is a combination of long haired rock and roller who happens to also have boy band abs – nearly representing how we could go from Vedder to Timberlake in the span of a decade. Both Samberg and Porter play their characters for laughs, but there is a reality underneath the jokes – accurate representations of different musical heartthrobs that surprisingly reflects the decade.
The To Do List is unquestionably a raunchy comedy, but it succeeds in re-creating the ’90s not just through the soundtrack, but by also populating the film with characters that echo the music scene of the time. Music is never the focal point of the movie, but that’s what makes these moments all the more natural and familiar. And even more impressive – these musical influences work to give added depth to the characters.
You can watch documentaries about prominent musicians of the ’90s or movies released during that decade, but The To Do List’s ability to create a fun, silly blast from the recent past through the musical performances and rock star reflections within the film make it a must-see for any music fan looking to jump back into some flannel lined or frosted tipped goodness.
The soundtrack for The To Do List is currently available through Universal Music Enterprises.
1. “Me So Horny” – The 2 Live Crew
2. “O.P.P.” – Naughty By Nature
3. “Let’s Talk About Sex” – Salt-n-Pepa
4. “Fade Into You” – Mazzy Star
5. “I Don’t Know Why I Love You” – The House of Love
6. “Stutter” – Elastic
7. “29” – Gin Blossoms
8. “Dreams” – The Cranberries
9. “Laid” – James
10. “Bittersweet” – Big Head Todd & The Monsters
11. “Break It Down Again” – Tears for Fears
12. “U Can’t Touch This” – MC Hammer
The To Do List comes out this Friday, July 26th.