The To Do List: A Long Awaited Female-Centric Sex Comedy
The arrival of teen sex comedy The To Do List may have passed the vast majority of film fans by this past weekend, not because it’s a such a non-event but because, with a high school comedy hitting cinemas a few times a year, they may not have realized what a strange specimen it really is. A female made (by writer/director Maggie Carey) and female-led (Aubrey Plaza) sex comedy is a strikingly rare beast and the question is: why have we had to wait so long to get one?
American Reunion limped into cinemas a full year ago and, given the failure and lackluster response to the franchise entry, you’d be forgiven for declaring the raunchy sub-genre dead. American Pie was such a big deal when it hit theaters in 1999 – the sort of phenomenon that doesn’t even exist in the same way nowadays – but audiences have since grown tired of the same tricks being pulled over and over again. The best of its kind in the last ten years has to be Superbad, but it stands somewhat alone in a sea of mediocrity and crassness.
All of which makes the emergence of a well-received example that at the same time subverts genre expectations a pretty huge deal. Women are supposed to be the object of lustful affection, standoffish and prudish until the moment when the story’s hero has been through enough to earn a night in her bed. If that fails, then there’s always the geeky best friend who, unbeknownst to the hero but completely obvious to the audience, has been nurturing a massive crush on our protagonist and only had to remove her glasses and hair-band to become worthy of his adoration.
So it’s a bit of leap to swap the gender roles around, with Aubrey Plaza’s Brandy deciding to brush up on her sexual know-how after spending high school buried in a book. Instead of being driven entirely by peer pressure she makes the decision to become more experienced in search of wisdom and pleasure ahead of college, where things can only kick up a notch. She approaches the endeavor with as much type-A organization and hard-work as she does her studies and – another departure from expectation – never has to tone down her brash personality to win the guy.
Where Easy A was an active rejection of the traditional teen sex comedy, with Emma Stone’s Olive taking on her assumed status as a slut and running with it, The To Do List is less interested in commenting on the status quo and more preoccupied with showing off a different perspective on things. Brandy’s awkwardly hilarious encounter with a pillow is essentially no different from Jason Biggs’ with the titular apple pie, and that’s what makes the film so pleasingly and unintentionally radical.
It’s a shame that we’ve had to wait this long for an honest representation of burgeoning female sexuality and that, now it’s arrived, the action is set in 1993, but maybe we need to correct past blind spots before addressing the mucky business of teen sex in 2013. There’s absolutely nothing innovative about how The To Do List deals with sex and relationships and that, by having a woman at the center, is pretty fantastic.