“The To Do List” follows Brandy Klark (played by Aubrey Plaza from “Parks and Recreation”), an overachieving valedictorian who dedicates the summer before freshman year of college to becoming as sexually experienced as possible. She makes a list of every extracurricular activity she never got around to in high school, rolls up her sleeves — or, more accurately, unzips her skort— and gets busy.
Everything about the look of the movie oozes ’90s nostalgia, and there’s no denying the visual cues to that simpler time help make “The To Do List” so funny. But don’t get distracted by the Trapper Keeper trappings of the setting (it’s 1993, “but that means 1988 in Idaho,” Carey said). Hidden inside that Caboodle, next to the landline telephone, over by the “Beverly Hills 90210” poster, whirring in the VCR, is the most progressive movie about female teen sexuality that’s hit theaters in decades.
When films tackle high school hookups, the takeaway seems to be that sex is either The Biggest Deal or No Big Deal. “The To Do List” rejects the premise that those two points of view are mutually exclusive, arguing instead that sex Is What It Is: a big deal when you want it to be, not a big deal when you don’t.
“It’s possible that that experience [of having sex for the first time] wasn’t what [Brandy] thought it would be, but it wasn’t bad,” Carey said. “That was important for me: That it wasn’t what she expected, but she walks away having learned something and it wasn’t negative.”
The teen movie canon is packed with guys just looking to get lucky and get on with it: “American Pie,” “Superbad,” “Can’t Hardly Wait,” the groan inducingly titled “The Last American Virgin.” But the go-to teen movie trope for a girl requires that she wants to have sex for the first time for a reason, and sex as an end unto itself is not reason enough. Play by those rules and emerge victorious; break them and be punished accordingly.
There’s Sam, the birthday girl in “Sixteen Candles,” a virgin who is saving herself for her senior crush. Her reward: birthday cake with aforementioned crush, passionate kiss over the titular candles.
There’s the very problematic Bella Swan from “Twilight,” whose idea of premarital relations consists of meaningful eye contact and not much else. Her reward: marriage to her beloved, eternal life, sparkly skin.
There’s Cher from “Clueless,” who rejects high school boys as unworthy. (“They’re like dogs. You have to clean them and feed them and they’re just like these nervous creatures that jump and slobber all over you.”) She tries and fails to lose her virginity to the guy she deems the only suitable suitor in town and gets smacked with a way-harsh insult that turns her point of pride into a source of shame: “You’re a virgin who can’t drive.” Still, at the movie’s end, her reward: She gets the guy, catches the bouquet. As if.