Enjoyment Isn’t an Item on ‘The To Do List’

[caption id="attachment_11309" align="aligncenter" width="600"]"The To Do List" poster The To Do List poster[/caption]

This guest post by Scarlett Harris appears as part of our theme week on Representations of Female Sexual Desire.

I was moved to watch The To Do List after seeing Emily Nussbaum tweet about it over the Christmas break. It was a stinking hot Saturday afternoon in my corner of the world, so I thought I’d watch along with her as she tweeted her disillusion with the Aubrey Plaza vehicle.

Nussbaum’s main complaint was that the sex in The To Do List—which comes about for Plaza’s character Brandy Klark after she realizes she has no sexual experience going into college—was utterly joyless; it was as if Brandy was going through the motions.

This is hardly surprising considering the premise of the film is to check off a smorgasbord of sex acts over summer vacation in order to be appropriately sexually educated as she becomes tertiary educated.

[caption id="attachment_11305" align="aligncenter" width="550"]"The To Do List" list The To Do List[/caption]


It’s not a wholly ineffective idea: Brandy understands studying and academic excellence better than she does social mores, so making a project out of a desire to know what to do come college (pardon the pun) prepares her for the next chapters in her life: more academic aptitude and more sex.

Previously on Bitch Flicks, Leigh Kolb wrote in praise of The To Do List, asserting that in the film, “Brandy’s desire is always paramount,” but I don’t think this is the case. While Brady’s parents—well, at least her mum, played to scrunchie-wearing perfection by Connie Britton—and sister, Amber (Rachel Bilson) are portrayed as pretty sexually progressive, their dialogue doesn’t seem to connote “the joy of sex,” so to speak. For example, upon giving Brandy a tube of lube, Mrs. Klark tells her daughter, “As you move forward on your sexual journey, promise me one thing.” “To have fun?” Brandy asks. “No, to use lube,” Mrs. Klark replied. Here, enjoyment seems an afterthought.

[caption id="attachment_11308" align="aligncenter" width="600"]A joyless kiss in "The To Do List" A joyless kiss in The To Do List[/caption]


Brandy’s sexually active sister, Amber, doesn’t seem to enjoy the copious amounts of sex she’s had, either. Though she does tell Brandy to “have fun getting your cherry popped” in the penultimate scene of the movie, it’s said with a heavy dose of sarcasm.

It’s important to note that part of the reason Brandy decides to cultivate a “sex manual,” as the objects of her attractions are wont to call it, is due to peer pressure. She’s called a virgin during her valedictorian speech, and her friends insinuate that Brandy can’t go to college as inexperienced as she is. The tipping point in Brandy’s decision to do her… erm… The To Do List ultimately lies in her lust for shirtless guitar player/lifeguard Rusty (Scott Porter), but even that turns out to be about what other people will think of her landing a college guy. At the end of the movie, she tells Rusty, “Am I going to regret losing my virginity to you? No, you are going to be an awesome story to tell my friends.”

[caption id="attachment_11307" align="aligncenter" width="600"]Brandy Brandy[/caption]

So while The To Do List appears as part of the recent cannon of sex positive “chick flicks,” which includes For a Good Time, Call…, not everything is as it seems. The To Do List is more about peer pressure and the sexual experiences you should be having at that age than it is about actual young female desire.

Scarlett Harris is a Melbourne, Australia-based freelance writer and blogger at The Scarlett Woman, where she muses about feminism, social issues and pop culture. You can follow her on Twitter here.

One Comment

  • LarissaP
    Posted May 26, 2014 at 7:16 pm | Permalink

    I watched this movie only yesterday and loved it. Yes, she goes about it in a very methodical manner, science-like even. Which is kind of the point. It’s that taking away of emotion – including disgust – that allows her to understand this in form of action and reaction, not taboo or misguided notions of love and femininity and masculinity. Honestly, I wish I had seen this as a teenager. It would have helped me understand my body and what sex is way more and way better, being surrounded as I was by closed lips (from my family) and lies (from my “friends”). I have the same analytical mind and going about it as a task rather than an obligation (because everybody else allegedly did it and was awesome at it, or so they said) would have made my life much easier. It’s not really, at that point, about enjoyment, it’s about learning. To her, after learning how to do it, then she’ll enjoy it.

    As for peer pressure, I find it hard to believe she hadn’t experienced it before. She just felt it was the time for her to learn.

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