POSTED July 25 2013

Much To-Do About Something: The To Do List and teen sex comedies

Aubrey Plaza in Maggie Carey's "The To Do List."

Aubrey Plaza in Maggie Carey’s “The To Do List.”

Before female screenwriters and directors got in on the action in the 1980s, teen sex comedies were largely a gendered affair. The ones starring and marketed to boys were about getting it. (The subtext of Porky’s and Animal House was that sex = humiliation.) The ones starring and marketed to girls about saving it. (The message of Where the Boys Are and the Beach Party films was: Good girls didn’t.)

Then along came Kimi Peck (Little Darlings) Amy Heckerling (Fast Times at Ridgemont High) and Eleanor Bergstein Dirty Dancing). In their refreshingly nonjudgmental movies, good girls did. The focus was not on the losing of virginity but rather on the getting of wisdom. The characters in these films found that sex was sometimes just sex and at other times it was tangled up in emotions, romance and love.

While watching Maggie Carey’s The To Do List, in which the central character (Aubrey Plaza), the high-school valedictorian, spends the summer before college mastering sexual acts straight from the pages of the Urban Dictionary. I reached for the smelling salts, but for the most part I laughed at the salty situations. And I asked myself, does it look different when a female writer is behind the script of a teen sex comedy or a female director behind the camera?

Here are some thoughts on the subject. Yours?


  1. Miz Val says:

    The message in todays teen comedies still remain the same for girls with a slight twist.It’s now ok to do it but it has to be for a reason. Examples: love,(or so you think) revenge, drunk or because you just want to get it over so you can move on to more desired target. Most of what I’ve seen on the screen as of late has been because of the first and third reasons.Rarely do I see protection or the discussion of protection before the act. It might be worth seeing The To Do List (sans smelling salts they still sell those?)just see how open minded and how far teen movies have come .

  2. Gary says:

    I recall Martha Coolidge’s classic VALLEY GIRL and her less appreciated JOY OF SEX as key female-directed teen sex comedies in the 80s, but also SMOOTH TALK by Joyce Chopra with an impressive Laura Dern losing it, in a darker way. I do think female filmmakers treat things more sensitively than male counterparts and Heckerling re-proved your theory with CLUELESS in the 90s.

  3. Richard says:

    There’s a scene in “Fast Times…” in which Jennifer Jason Leigh is having sex and the POV is her’s – the ceiling of the dugout – and you can read the graffiti (Surf Nazis Must Die, maybe?). Never saw that shot from a male director.

  4. Debbie says:

    Certainly it does on TV. Sex in the City somewhat but a big jump with Girls. Bridesmaids took ownership of the female sexual body in a new way too. I really don’t think a female director would have fallen in to the sexism of American Pie: It tries to look like it’s anti-sexist, ie. that the jock loses, girls get to have libido, etc. But in fact, the film included a lengthy episode with the Czech girl, who then gets expelled from school and the country (!) without a footnote of reflection in the film. It was all an excuse to show the boys some porn.
    Similarly, how did the new MuchAdo make sense having Beatrice in a totally contemporary one-night stand with Benedick in the same world in which Hermia’s supposed losss of virginity remains reason for her father to disown her? (Otherwise, a lovely film.)
    On the subject of female directors and sex, I have to detour from romcom to give props to The Piano. Best ever on women’s sexuality.

  5. Lou says:

    Read your review in the Inquirer on Thursday 7-25-2013. Very good.
    The movie is on my must see list.

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