The teen sex comedy is a staple subgenre of teen films. Porky's, Revenge of the Nerds and American Pie are just some of the films that have brought sex puns and now grossly iconic uses of apple pie into pop culture. However it is genre that rarely, if ever, stars women. The teen sex comedy has a predominately male focus--usually a plain Jim everyman (he's not bad looking but not someone you'd lose focus in Algebra over) who is desperate to toss away his virginity at the hottest female specimen he can find. Many times, he loses it to the girl who has "been there all along" usually behind a pair of glasses.
Female sexuality in teen films is usually tied up in neatly wrapped packages of love --sex happens to the strains of a soft rock ballad without notion of pain or pleasure. Women's sexual experiences are never shown in the lusty, awkward, comedic and horribly realistic ways that men's are in this genre.
That's what makes Maggie Carey's The To Do List so subversive--it takes the female character equivalent of everygirl (who would be sidelined as the "been there all along" girl) and puts her squarely in charge of her sexual experimentation with hilariously awkward and painfully realistic results.
The film stars Aubrey Plaza as Brandy Klark, the valedictorian of her high school who is heading to Georgetown in the fall and is completely unaware about sex since she spent all of high school studying. After starting her summer job as a lifeguard, Brandy realizes she's about to spend the summer working with mega-babe Rusty Waters (Scott Porter) who she desperately wants to have sex with. Brandy takes her studious attitude towards a sexual education creating a sexual "to do list" she wants to complete before summer ends.
Brandy stumbles through her sexual list hilariously with awkward experimentations, hickeys and fumbled groping. Plaza goes for broke in these sex scenes--playing them up hilariously and at times to the level of previous teen sex comedies. The scenes, while played for laughs, are authentic in their feeling. When Brandy is dry humping on a living room floor with a very enthusiastic partner, her awkward facial expression speaks volumes about the experience. And in one of the funniest scenes showcasing female masturbation, Brandy, clad in her "Pro-Choice, Pro-Clinton" t-shirt (the film is set in 1993), sweatily humping a pillow is certainly not the male fantasy of what female masturbation is--it's what it actually is.
Carey's film also does the unknown--it separates Brandy's sexual experience from love by tying it to lust instead which is typically not shown as an option for women. In American Pie, Jim (Jason Biggs) lusts after the gorgeous exchange student Nadia (Shannon Elizabeth) and will do just about anything he can to sleep with her. That unbridled wanting and chasing isn't something you see often in teen movies when it comes to women. Female characters are passive or merely just unaware until the hot jock notices them. Carey flips the script on this and has Brandy chasing lust object Rusty throughout the movie. He is her end goal. In lesser films, Brandy would have to change her type A, bossy and at times caustic attitude to something more palatable to make anything with Rusty happen. But Carey takes Brandy seriously--she's confident in who she is despite the insults from her prettier, more sexually experienced sister (Rachel Bilson). Brandy remains constant in who she is and gets what she wants because of it.
One of the most refreshing things about The To Do List is that Brandy isn't motivated by love--she's motivated by figuring out what she wants sexually. There are no soft rock ballads, no declarations of love, no perfect first times. She's given helpful sex advice from her mother (Connie Britton) and her sister and figures out what she likes and doesn't like. Later in the film, Brandy does have an epiphany about the emotions tied to sex but she doesn't regret what she's done. In one of my favorite lines of the film, Brandy discusses why she wouldn't regret an encounter. "He's hot! It's going to be a great story to tell my friends."
That's why The To Do List works so well---it's feminist, funny and smart about sexuality. It always takes Brandy and what she wants seriously and never dumbs her down to get a guy. It shows that female sexuality doesn't have to always be tied to love. And it makes wildly apparent how much women need these kinds of films that put our sexuality at the forefront.
Maggie Carey has reinvented the teen sex comedy and has proven that awkward masturbation scenes aren't just for Jason Biggs in American Pie.
The To Do List opens in theatres today.