The virgin or the whore – ★★★★
There’s really nothing all that new in the concept behind Maggie Carey’s The To Do List. An honour-roll student gets sick of being the class geek and decides that before they head off to college they’re going to lose their virginity, taking advantage of unsuspecting locals to get some experience and tick off sexual adventures from a “to do list”. What’s refreshing and sets this teen sex comedy away from the likes of American Pie and Superbad is that the person taking the bull by the horns is a girl.
The girl in question is Brandy, played with a trademark superiority complex by “Parks and Recreation” and Safety Not Guaranteed‘s Aubrey Plaza. She’s taken a liking to a Rusty Waters (Scott Porter), a big hunk of a man working at the local swimming pool with her for the summer. This causes great distress to her senior year science and study partner, the wonderfully tame and geeky Cameron (Johnny Simmons, seen most recently in The Perks of Being a Wallflower). Rounding out the main cast are her two friends Fiona (Alia Shawkat) and Wendy (Sarah Steele), Bill Hader as the pool manager and Rachel Bilson as Brandy’s sister Amber. Add to that a shedload of cameos and smaller roles from the likes of Andy Samberg, Donald Glover, Clark Gregg, Adam Pally, Christopher Mintz-Plasse and Connie Britton and you’ve got a truly stellar comic cast.
This is Carey’s feature debut and as writer and director she clearly has a very strong, nostalgic vision for what her early 90s should look like. A trip through Brandy or Amber’s bedrooms will be a delight for anyone who came of age during that decade. Skorts, the movies Beaches on VHS, baywatch swimsuits, dungarees, filo-fax style ring binders and phones in bedrooms all get you thinking of a time that you may or may not have experienced. My favourite line was when she gets to college and says she’ll try send someone an “electronic mail” – sadly we don’t get to hear that iconic modem sound of “Pshhhkkkkkkrrrrkakingkakingkakingtshchchchchchchchcch*ding*ding*ding”.
Of course the reason the film has seen so much ink spilled over it is because of its stance on sex as something that people should experience in their own time, enjoying it for what it is. Usually a film would inadvertently vilify Brandy and brand her a slut for experimenting with different guys, but here there’s very little judgement, and while she inevitably upsets people through the film she is chastised by the town for being selfish, not for being a hussy.
The feminists and feminist allies amongst you won’t be disappointed with some great gender flips in play as in some ways the guys in the film are really just a means to an end for the girls who really do call the shots. Gloria Steinem gets name-checked three times and Brandy quotes her line of “you’re either the virgin or the whore”, which says a lot about what this film may be trying to say. Brandy’s hero is Hillary Clinton, who at time was slowly redefining what the FLOTUS could and should be doing. That a small female-led film like this could make back its budget in its opening weekend gives you hope following a summer of boring macho-centric blockbusters where Fast & Furious 6 was the most diverse film at the multiplex.
The film is far from perfect as it falls into the pratfalls of so many comedies like this. The film has a 16 certificate here in Ireland, and you wonder if at times they’re trying a little too hard with some of the awkward teen sex scenarios and freeze frames. It’s crass, preposterous and shocking but if that’s your thing (and clearly it is mine) you’re going to love it. Midway through the film gets a little bogged down in its own “to do list” and you wonder how many more items we’ll have to tick off the list, but it is saved by a very satisfying final act which suggests this could well become a bit of a cult favourite in years to come.
Opening nationwide across Ireland on October 4th 2013
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