Another Notch in the Chastity Belt
Getting busy with UT alumna Maggie Carey's 'The To Do List'
The premise of The To Do List, opening this Friday, comes straight out of Sex Comedy 101: A nerdy, virginal teenager, desperate to get "experienced" before college, pens a list of sex acts and spends the summer checking them off with hot lifeguards at the pool where she works.
You may be hearing a record scratch at the pronoun "she." That's because in teen comedies from Porky's to American Pie to Superbad, our nation's vast supply of horndog virgins is understood to be male. Uptight valedictorians like Brandy Klark (played with hilariously deadpan earnestness by Aubrey Plaza) are either beautiful and sad, as in Say Anything, or sociopathic, as in Election. While there's a touch of Tracy Flick in the overachieving Brandy, she's decidedly more interested in fingerbanging than romance.
If this sounds cynical or sleazy, it's not. "I don't see it as gross-out comedy; I see it as specific and frank," explains writer/director Maggie Carey. Brandy is ambitious and political – she idolizes Hillary Clinton. But when she encounters sex for the first time in the glistening, shirtless form of a guy named Rusty Waters (Scott Porter) playing an acoustic cover of "Pour Some Sugar on Me" at a kegger, she's genuinely perplexed. Although she hates to be bad at anything, Brandy's methodical conquests aren't just for show. The final exam is intercourse with Rusty; she's cramming.
When Carey first circulated her screenplay under its raunchier working title, The Hand Job, she got feedback from readers who were bothered by a leading lady having sexual relations with more than one guy – or two, or three. Nevertheless, the script made the Black List's survey of 2009's best unproduced scripts, and last year's Austin Film Festival-sponsored table reading brought more attention. For Carey, who graduated from film school at the University of Texas, the AFF advance screening was like coming home.
Set in 1993 in Carey's real hometown of Boise, Idaho, and loosely inspired by her own experiences as a studious but "boy-crazy" 17-year-old, The To Do List is replete with nostalgic costumes – Laura Ashley, anyone? – and throwbacks like Trapper Keepers and 2 Live Crew. Carey, like Brandy, worked on the Clinton/Gore campaign and had a summer job as a lifeguard, where she was hazed mercilessly. And her love of Beaches, which Brandy watches with her besties (Alia Shawkat and Sarah Steele), is real.
Despite all that autobiographical detail, Carey wants to make one thing clear: "There was no list. That is fiction." She adds, "For my parents, I will say again, there was no list."
Though everyone's parents will doubtless be horrified, The To Do List's unapologetic portrayal of girls who wanna have fun and are not inclined to hate themselves or one another feels both authentic and refreshing. At the movie's, er, climax, Plaza pulls out a condom – pregnancy and AIDS aren't on the list – and climbs on top, citing a 40% better chance of attaining orgasm. Brandy has clearly done her homework, and so has Carey.