Review:The To Do List—Second Sex


By the 90s, John Hughes had traded teen fans for family audiences, aging with the crowds who loved 16 Candles with Home Alone, consequently leaving an empty space at the multiplex for trenchant teen comedies. In my imagination, Hollywood voted to postpone the second coming of the brat pack, perhaps until it was acceptable for the new Molly Ringwald to be friskier. (Oh, imagination!)

The To Do List does for Porky’s what some think Bridesmaids did for The Hangover--presents a girl’s version of the audience tested sex comedy, proves the existence of the female libido, offers a girly alternative to a male dominated genre. It gives sex to the second sex, which is a tricky proposition, because following any lead still means girls come second.

Brandy (Aubrey Plaza) is a high school valedictorian so deliberate and scholarly that when she hears freshman year is like a “sexual pop quiz,” she rewrites her To Do List, turning “buy shoes for the communal showers” into “rim job,” “hand job,” and whatever else she read about in Funk & Wagnall’s answer to Urban Dictionary. She has no idea what half the list items are, (thank God this was before Donkey Punch) but in time she’s schooling her friends and stealing their crushes, which is how drama threatens to sink The To Do List.

The comfortably delivered cultural jokes like “stop dressing like Tracy Gold” become the most successful in the movie, but the cast chemistry, jokey costumes, and extensive era soundtrack still add up to a picture determined to come in second. The pop soundtrack (which would fill three disks if anyone bought discs anymore) is 100% 1993, and features a constant stream of songs barely worth remembering, forget downloading. The way Brandy approaches sex is a more meticulous way of managing the orientation of most male-centered sex comedies and we hear her criticized for it relatively little (the most fictional aspect of the film), but for as much as her friends see her as this sexual conquistador the humor surrounding her methods is stunningly unoriginal.The To Do List makes a case for female sexual exploration while it plays by the rules of every male based outfit in the field. Like Brandy's first time, the film is missing the newness and magic of a traditional deflowering (and it director Maggie Carey's feature narrative debut).

Brandy’s first hand job, an ugly episode that ends with a shot of her looking at her sticky hand in offput confusion, demonstrates little thought. This is a girl so self-aware she concludes a fight with a monologue about her feelings but her only response to male sexual response is staring blankly? If her emotion is disappointment, the feeling is mutual.

I know it’s a genre movie, and those like to make knowing references to other films of their ilk, but in this case we have a game of quiet copycat who's only result is to make the film derivative. A question you might ask is “Could The To Do List have looked any other way?” and the answer is “Yes” but Maggie Carey’s direction and cast are persuasive and her camera assured enough to convince you of her vision—even if it’s not that original. Sex is pretty much the oldest thing humans have; I suppose it’s logical the awkward virginal mating dances are predictable.

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