Don't Call 'The To Do List' a Romantic Comedy

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The To Do List, the upcoming movie starring Aubrey Plaza, is about a teenage girl who gets herself into a lot of awkward sexual situations in a quest to attain a hunky guy. But don't call it a romantic comedy, writer-director Maggie Carey told The Atlantic Wire in a phone conversation. That's what some people tried to label it, she explained, simply because it had a female in the lead.

"This not a romantic comedy. It's a comedy comedy. I think sometimes because it was a female protagonist, people automatically assumed it was a romantic comedy," Carey explained, saying this popped up during the financing and marketing side of making the movie. "For some reason that really irked me and not because I don't love romantic comedies, but because it was like no, this movie is just funny, and the whole point of the protagonist's journey its that for her it’s okay that the first time is not about being in love, it's just about being a curious teenager."

But The To Do List is certainly not about finding romance, unlike say Austenland, a movie due out in August, that's being almost exclusively marketed to women. Carey's movie instead follows the sexual misadventures of type-A high school graduate Brandy Klark (Plaza) in the summer of 1993. Klark—a Hillary Clinton-worshipping feminist—decides that, before heading to college at Georgetown, she needs to educate herself about sex. Accordingly, she decides to make a meticulous to-do list of all the acts she needs to perform—hand job, blow job, etc.—leading up to actual sex with the smoldering, guitar-playing Rusty Waters (Scott Porter). Marriage is never in this equation. "Good god, she would never marry this guy and she knows that," Carey said. 

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Despite the success of a film like The Heat, journalists have taken note that it's been a particularly grim summer for movies starring women. In a study for Vulture that looked at the presence of women in summer movies from 1989 to 2013, Amanda Dobbins found that, this year, only 32 percent of movies starred women. Compare that to 1993, the summer in which The To Do List takes place, when 37 percent did.  

For better or for worse, The To Do List is probably the closest thing we have to a female response to Superbad in that it's a coming of age tale about a quest to attain sex. But Carey—who is married to Superbad and To Do List star Bill Hader—wasn't writing her film with any social agenda in regards to women in comedy, she said. "When I was writing it I was just writing the story, and writing something my friends and I would think is funny," she told The Wire. Though in her time with the film, there were instances when Carey realized how being a female director with a female star impacted her. 

"I've had this from the press: they are like there's no nudity in the movie," she said. "I and I was like, well there is nudity in that Rusty Waters has his shirt off. I’m a female director, why would I have Aubrey Plaza take her shirt off? That does nothing for me. There's that, where I’m like, 'Oh no, you’re forgetting there is nudity.' I’m totally objectifying this guy. I have him playing guitar with steam coming off of him, basically. There is that, they are just forgetting it's from the girl's point of view." 

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.