Feels Like the First Time

Aubrey Plaza gets a crash course in sex ed in ‘The To Do List’


Brandy (Aubrey Plaza) literally compiles a “To Do List” of sexual acts she wants to test out before college.

Let’s spice up your commute with an activity: Make a list of every sexual activity you can think of. (In your head, so as not to freak out the person sitting next to you.) How many do you have?

Brandy Klark, the protagonist of “The To Do List” (played by “Parks and Recreation’s” Aubrey Plaza), probably thought of more than you did.

In the film, which opens Friday, Brandy is a high school valedictorian who has focused entirely on schoolwork until she sees heartthrob Rusty (Scott Porter) and decides she’d like to lose her virginity to him. What follows is a Type A sex comedy, with Brandy making a list and working her way up to The Big Act with a variety of boys as her very willing partners.

“I don’t promote being promiscuous,” says writer-director Maggie Carey. “But [the character] didn’t have to be in love. This wasn’t the guy Brandy was going to marry — this was just purely lust. She was a normal, horny teenager, and that was important, because I think in movies, women don’t get to be that.”

Carey doesn’t see her first feature as akin to “American Pie” or even the less-explicit John Hughes staples of the ’80s. “I’m a fan of that genre, and I’m so inspired by those movies,” she says. For her, “The To Do List” is “a classic coming-of-age story. And her coming of age is about sex.”

It’s about sex in a very specific time period, too. The film takes place in Boise, Idaho, in 1993, a setting partly inspired by Carey’s experiences (she graduated from high school that year).

“Brandy is a little more naive about things,” Carey says. For example, the character uses a dictionary to look up a lot of her planned activities — A LOT of them. “There was more of a challenge about how you got information in the ’90s, before we had the Internet. It was important to me it was 1993 and not 1995, because you had email in ’95. In ’93, you didn’t. Obviously in 2013, things have really changed about how teenagers communicate; the story wouldn’t have worked.”

The film is surprisingly blunt in its handling of female sexuality, which is sure to cause some blushing among audience members, even those who don’t have to look up any of Brandy’s experiences.

“I never set out to make it raunchy,” Carey says. “I was just being frank and honest and truthful.”

Keeper of Her Heart

One prop among the ’90s-era set dressing had special meaning for director Maggie Carey. “When I was in high school, a Trapper Keeper was too expensive,” she says. “My parents were like, ‘You’re fine with a three-ring binder.’ So the Trapper Keeper was my big Hollywood moment: ‘I’m making a movie, and I’m gonna have a Trapper Keeper in it.’ ”

Kristen Page-Kirby covers film for The Washington Post Express.
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Holley Simmons | July 25, 2013