To Do List

The new, raunchy sex comedy, “The To Do List” announces the feature debut of the gifted writer-director Maggie Carey. “To Do List” is a personal film about one special summer project (and it is a project), loosely inspired by Carey’s real-life adventures.

Thematically, it belongs to the genre of teenagers high-schoolers–—girls just wanna have fun-—except that the fun in question is driven by the kind of libido that we are accustomed to see in male teen comedies. We have come a long way, baby, the movie seems to say, and young girls these days may not be all that different from boys when it comes to eros, sexual initiation, and, yes, sexual performances, practices, and positions.

Aubrey Plaza plays the valedictorian Brandy Klark, a nerdy (what else?) high-school graduate who who wants to shed once and for all her uptight image before going to college. To that extent, she assembles a “to do list” of all the “activities” she had missed out on in high school. Soon, she finds herself totally engaged in an anthropological field research about the 57 varieties of sexual experience. “There are so many ‘jobs’ here!” she notes of the terms she sets out to master and then stores in her Trapper Keeper.

Quickly realizing that she’s way out of her depth, Brandy solicits her best friends, older sister and burnt-out boss for their help and advice. Determined to complete all the items on the list by the pressing deadline–September 1–she and her cohorts move quickly, using their vivid imagination, open-minded approach, and other skills.

That “To Do List” is set in 1993, and not in the present time, might be all the more shocking to parents who think that the sexual lives of their daughters begin much later. Remarkably, “To Do List” is nonjudgmental and is not intended to be a cautionary tale.

The adults in “To Do List” are also more benign and realistic than has been the norms in this genre. Brandy’s mother (Connie Britton) is a pragmatic nurse, who provides useful information and shares her values, which are less strict than those of her husband (Clark Gregg).

The film’s bold language and sexual candor are admirable, and so is Carey’s determination not to center on the moral and ethical (usually phony) issues of losing virginity before marriage, but rather on the pleasures that girls, just like boys, derive from having sex. Good sex!

While watching this movie, I could not help but recall Kazan’s 1961 masterpiece, “Splendor in the Grass,” starring Warren Beatty and Natalie Wood, one of the strongest Hollywood features about the tragic effects of adult hypocrisy and repressed sexuality in a smack Kansas town.

Though “To Do List” is an ensemble pieces, including such talented males as Bill Hader, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Donald Glover, Scott Porter, ultimately, the movie belongs to its females.

The comedy benefits from its distinctly female perspective, having been written and helmed by a bright and witty woman. As such, it lacks the implicit sexism of such recent bold comedies as Harmony Korine’s “Spring Breakers,” with its focus on boobs and nudity.

Among other qualities, “To Do List” proudly and unabashedly earns its R rating. Reflecting the zeitgeist of the new millennium, it’s a relief to hear young women talk freely about “blow job” and “suck a dick,” and boys acknowledging that “our boners will not go away.”


Released by CBS Films
MPAA Rating: R
Running time: 103 Minutes.