The To Do List

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Long anticipated and then maligned by critics and audiences when it was released, Maggie Carey’s lone feature film The To Do List (2013) was controversial only for its frank depiction of female sexual awakening. The premise of The To Do List is a feminist inversion of films like Sixteen Candles (1984) as it follows the prudish valedictorian Brandy Klark (Aubrey Plaza) as she attempts, albeit very methodically and scientifically, to gain sexual experience and lose her virginity before she starts college.

The To Do List satirizes the masculine gaze and reclaims it as a byproduct of feminine power. Brandy possesses no end of dramatic agency and remains, throughout, wholly in control of her sexual encounters. The coup of The To Do List is that the film functions as a parody of male centered teen sex comedies like American Pie (1999) while also sincerely affirming the genre as a legitimate means of female expression. Carey’s take on the genre is as crass, vulgar, and raunchy as any teen movie could hope to be.

The To Do List is hilarious, especially those freeze frames that accompany Brandy’s sexual triumphs. The issue that critics had with the film is that Carey’s balance of raunchy humor and sentimentality seemed counter productive. However, this is merely par for the course in a genre that so often attempts to provoke tears from viewers when it’s not actively sexualizing teens. What Carey’s methods succeed at is discarding the fetishism of teen aged bodies in favor of a forthright commentary on the young female sexual experience.

I have no doubts that The To Do List probably made older male critics uncomfortable. Here is a coming of age film where a woman describes her experience being fingered as “it felt like he was looking for change in sofa cushions”. Thankfully, much has changed since 2013 and The To Do List is primed for rediscovery. Maybe it’s helpful to think of The To Do List as the edgier and hipper older cousin of the critical darling Booksmart (2019). Personally I’d take raunchy jokes and honesty over Booksmart‘s safe and predictable approach any old day.