Title: The To-Do List
Director: Maggie Carey
Principle Cast: Aubrey Plaza, Scott Porter, Johnny Simmons, Bill Hader
Length: 1h 30m
Release Date: July 26, 2013
Reviewed by: Nick Watson
Imagine for a moment a world where female directors weren't treated like an anomaly, just pretend for a moment that when a great comedy or drama that happened to be written or directed by a female and is actually good, didn't cause such a stir in the movie community. What if it just was, and people acknowledged it for its greatness and not because it has a woman's name attached to it. This idea of "female-centric" comedies that are becoming increasingly popular always seem to have the distinction of being "female movies". No one ever seems to refer to movies with an all-male cast as "male-centric" in a positive way. After all, Bridesmaids is simply a female version of The Hangover, isn't it?
And while movies about women have always been around, they have mostly always been directed by men, even if the focus is mainly on female characters. The most recent; Mean Girls, Easy A, Bridesmaids, Pitch Perfect are all examples of "female-centric" comedies directed by males, the only difference is this time they aren't simply romantic comedies, or better known by their other label, the terribly derogative and archaic, "chick flicks". And despite their male directors, Sixteen Candles remains a obligatory viewing for almost every teenage girl in the North Western Hemisphere, and Stealing Beauty will always be the most hauntingly erotic coming of age film I've ever seen.
So pretty much unless you are (or were) Nora Ephron, Nancy Meyers, or Anne Fletcher, your work mostly goes unrecognized. And although the works of Miranda July and Lena Dunham are now more widely known in the public, and films like American Mary, Bachelorette and The To-Do List are being made, they will still fall under some women-defining category, instead of simply being a comedy, drama or horror.
So, what is the benefit of having movies made by women about women? If it isn't obvious to viewers by now, then you just aren't watching enough movies. Women are able to tap into the psyche of their female characters and create narrative that can resonate with female (and male) movie goers. They understand that women talk about sex the same way that men do, and this notion that women become far more emotional then men during and after sex is a completely sexist idea perpetuated by the media. And this is where Maggie Carey's The To-Do List comes in and tries to breakdown some of the misconceptions that most men, and women, have about girls and sex.
As Brandy Klark (Aubrey Plaza) embarks on her summer before starting college, she decides with her two best friends (Alia Shawkat and Sarah Steele) that she needs to loose her virginity before she moves away for her post-secondary experience. Of course, after a keg party the night of her high school graduation she becomes enamored with Rusty Waters (Scott Porter), the college jock who plays guitar and works as a lifeguard at the local pool. Brandy creates a list of all the sexual activities she needs to accomplish, which culminates in doing the deed with Rusty. With the help of her sister (Rachel Bilson) and eventually her mother (Connie Britton) she begins her summer of sexual awakening, using any boy she can get her hands on to reach her goals.
The blasé approach that the female characters have towards sex stands out immediately, and more than once their actions aren't even a second thought. For Brandy it is all about crossing things off her literal to-do list, and nothing more, While her high school lab partner and boy with a crush Cameron (Johnny Simmons) pines for her love and affection, effectively reversing gender roles. While it is interesting to see how the characters handle their situations, it is interesting because it is always done in a joking way from every other character except from Brandy. It never seems to let itself be taken too seriously which works for a comedy, but at the same time manages to some how downplay what is actually going on.
I will admit that my initial reaction was "American Pie" for females, and you will have to excuse me for that one, but I still think it is partly true. The set up is alarmingly similar, but this time the group of friends are horny young women talking about masturbation and using the men, not the other way around, and while "toilet humor" is mostly reserved for male centered comedies like Superbad or This Is The End, The To-Do List offers more than enough shocking language to make most people squirm.
While Maggie Carey obviously knows her subject, and has managed to get many funny people on board for this project (including husband Bill Hader, Andy Samberg and Donald Glover) it sometimes misses the mark when it comes to laughs. It might illicit a few chuckles from the crowd but that is about it. While it is important to acknowledge what The To-Do List is actually doing as a statement about women and their libidos, it is a movie better saved for a rainy day when it becomes available on Netflix.