When I was growing up, teen sex comedies were all the rage. They had names like Losin It and The Last American Virgin and they almost always revolved around the exploits of a horny young male virgin (or several) looking to get laid.
So I was stoked when I heard about The To Do List, set in the summer of 1993, which appeared to be a gender swap on that once-ubiquitous genre. Hooray! Finally, the girl was going to be the horny one!
Well, not quite.
Yes, The To Do List is about a teenage girl named Brandy (Aubrey Plaza) who is looking to lose her virginity. But not because she’s particularly lustful. Rather, she’s a class valedictorian, a perfectionist, who has been told by her older sister (Rachel Bilson) that it’s imperative she has sex before going to college. As such, Brandy ticks off her to-do list of sexual acts—most of which I can’t itemize in this family magazine—with a kind of grim, workmanlike sense of purpose.
This is particularly unsettling when Brandy takes advantage of Cameron (Johnny Simmons), the sweet boy who has a crush on her. He thinks they’re dating: In fact, he’s a kind of X-rated homework project.
Brandy may not have any true carnal interest, but at least her two best friends, Fiona (Alia Shawkat) and Wendy (Sarah Steele), are cheerfully sex-crazed. “Whoa. There are things on this list that I havne't even done,” says Fiona, approvingly. At another point, Fiona and Wendy respond to Brandy’s “you guys suck!” with a dirty, unison fill-in-the-blank. (Use your imaginations.)
Brandy’s mother (the always welcome Connie Britton) is equally nonchalant about sex, not just advising her daughter to practice safe sex but also providing her with, um, sexual aides.
But none of this rubs off on Brandy. She's just mechanically ticking items off her list. ("Lie back and think of the honor roll" could be the film's motto.)
Brandy is a lifeguard at a kind of rinky-dink pool, run by the bored, mocking Willy (SNL’s Bill Hader, who happens to be married to writer-director Maggie Carrie). His character was another reversal of our expectations—Willy may be an overgrown adolescent but he actually has a chivalrous streak.
Ultimately, The To Do List was just good enough that I’m intrigued to see what Carrie does next: I enjoyed the film’s off-kilter sense of humor, its loving riffs on the 90s (Brandy idolizes Hillary Clinton and writes her sex list in a Trapper Keeper), not to mention its admirable affection for Friday Night Lights (besides Britton, the film also features FNL’s Scott Porter as an ab-tastic fellow lifeguard and Brandy’s one true object of lust). It also, not for nothing, has some of the best title credits i've ever seen.
Too bad it’s ultimately kinda depressing. A teen sex comedy with a hero that doesn’t seem to enjoy sex? The filmmakers must be losin it.