Everything you wanted to know about sex, and more, has pretty much been revealed and publicly explored through the medium of cinema, in ways coy and TMI-ish, metaphorical and nuts-and-bolts-y. How is it, then, that this perky little summer romp of a film, The To Do List, seems to be tilling fresh soil in the realm of screen sex and the rite-of-passage genre? Of course, there is, at the core, the atypical perspective of sexual awakening through the experience of a self-determined female protagonist. But there is also something strangely new and bracing about the movie’s house blend of sexual frankness and follies in the “field,” a deconstructionist demystifying of the leering, male-geared sexuality Hollywood deals with as a sturdy component of its business plan.
Aubrey Plaza (of TV’s Parks and Recreation) is ideal in the role of Brandy Klark, played with a goofy dry wit and killer combination of self-knowing savvy and charming naïveté. She is a bright high school valedictorian from Boise, Idaho, circa 1993, whose graduation speech is sullied by a student shout-out of “virgin!” Not one to shy away from a challenge, she coolly determines to create a list of sexual experiences on the road to conquering said virginity — a checklist and a summer project. Hers is a to-do list where the “doing” takes on new meaning, as she navigates between assorted male types— he who likes her (Johnny Simmons), the airheaded blonde hunk (Scott Porter), and the crass-tongued but loveable boss (Bill Hader, in a role weirdly similar to Sam Rockwell’s in The Way Way Back).
First-time writer/director Maggie Carey has great, clever, and semi-feminist fun with the rite-of-passage game, toying with the clichés, push-button crassness, and hardwired preconceptions of the genre. This is the only film I’ve ever seen, for instance, where our heroine makes the remark “let’s get to work, vagina.” The To Do List is a giddy pleasure trove and an occasionally sexy (while also anti-sexy) summer romp to boot.