Hollywood’s ‘The To Do List’: ‘Sometimes Sex Is Just Sex’

Forget the summer reading list, try a summer sex list. Hollywood’s latest movie posits that “sometimes sex is just sex,” and gives young audiences eight easy steps to make it that way – via Brandy Klark’s “To Do List.”

A comedy, “The To Do List” followed class valedictorian Brandy Klark (played by “Parks and Recreation’s” Aubrey Plaza) as she created a list of sexual experiences to complete before college. While Klark failed certain tasks, she checked off eight sex tactics with willing partners on screen – from oral sex to masturbating – before reaching the ultimate goal (spoiler alert!): losing her virginity to heartthrob life guard Rusty Waters.

In the end, Klark summed up her experience as nothing special, saying, “sometimes sex is just sex” and that “teenagers don’t have regrets” because “that’s for your 30’s.”

Written and directed by Maggie Carey, the film hit theaters Friday, July 26, with an R rating for“pervasive strong crude and sexual content including graphic dialogue, drug and alcohol use, and language – all involving teens.” It was set in Boise, Idaho during the ‘90s.

Klark, portrayed as naive – from donning her day-of-the-week panties to researching sex via the dictionary – obsessed over her mantra, “I deserved to get f***** by Rusty.” Before hooking up with Rusty in a van, she turned to her more experienced mother and sister for advice. Both of them cheered her on, from her sister wishing luck, calling out,  “Have fun popping your cherry” and “enjoy your penis” to her mother offering help, suggesting, “Just promise me one thing: to use lube.”

In contrast, the “out-of-touch” father, who shied away from speaking “sex” and read Rush Limbaugh in bed (contrast: Klark idolized Hillary Clinton), only appeared as an obstacle, constantly walking in on his daughters having sex.

The movie takes a dim view of men in general, with Klark saying at the end, “carry on men, you’re animals.” Instead of harboring regret, she minimized Rusty into “an awesome story to tell my friends.” 

The media wholeheartedly agreed – on the “awesome story,” that is.

The plot captivated reviewers. The Washington Post’s” Kristen Page-Kirby gushed that, "It's the first movie I can remember where a woman who wants to have sex – and not just sex, but good sex that is pleasurable for both her and her partner – doesn't get punished with a broken condom or a broken heart. This film is a first that was worth waiting for.”

Another WaPo article adored the film as, “teen sex from a realistic middle ground,” while The Atlantic buttered on the love for the, “un-panicked, radically reassuring portrayal of teenage sex.”The New York Times summarized – or rather, worshipped – the movie with one sentence, “This movie is smarter and better acted and just plain funnier than most of its predecessors in the my-first-time genre, no matter which sex is losing what.”

Director and writer Carey defended her story (not that she needed to) for WaPo’s Page-Kirby, explaining, “I never set out to make it raunchy,” but instead, “I was just being frank and honest and truthful.” She remained in awe of her own character, explaining in another WaPo interview, “This is a very smart 18-year-old woman. She is not kidding herself that the guy she’s going to lose her virginity to is the guy she wants to marry,” or, in other words, “Even though she’s naïve in a way, she’s also savvy.”

Katie Yoder
Katie Yoder
Katie Yoder is Staff Writer, Joe and Betty Anderlik Fellow in Culture at the Media Research Center