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Marrieds at the Movies: Why the 'To Do List' Is More Sad than Funny

Every Friday night, sends cinephiles (and newlyweds) Sarah and Joe Piccirillo to see a film. Afterwards, they answer a few questions about it. Below is their discussion.

The To Do List

Synopsis: After graduating high school, overachiever Brandy Klark (Aubrey Plaza) sees and lusts after fellow lifeguard Rusty Waters (Scott Porter). When she realizes she's not ready to go all the way without a little practice, she works her way through a to-do list that looks a lot like a Purity Test. With Connie Britton, Rachel Bilson and Bill Hader.


Was This a Good Date Movie?

Joe: That depends. If you or your date laughs hysterically while watching someone eat human excrement, then this is the movie for you. If you consider that a spoiler, then I am sad.

Sarah: Even if you laugh at the awkwardness together, watching that much coarse, unpleasant sex is going to stick with you for a while.

Joe: Especially if you were planning coarse, unpleasant sex after the movie.


How Does the Sex Comedy Genre Work When the Genders Are Reversed?

Joe: Critics are comparing this film to American Pie but it's not the same. Teenage boys just want someone – or even something -- to touch their junk. When they can't find a partner, that's funny.

Sarah: Or crippling.

Joe: But when you have a teenage girl who doesn't enjoy sex and uses it only to reach an arbitrary goal and has an unlimited supply of partners, that's not funny; it's just sad.  There's no obstacle.

Sarah: It's true. Every girl can sleep around if she wants to. What's compelling are the details: when it happens, how it happens, and what she feels about it. If the answers to those questions are "whenever," "however" and "nothing," then I'm not sure why we should care.


What Drove You Nuts?

Joe: This movie thinks that nostalgia is automatically funny. "Ooh, there's a Walkman. I had a Walkman!" But you can't just show old things and expect people to laugh or relate. You need character development and punch lines. Some of the reviews for this movie cite "hilarity." I cannot, for the life of me, produce any line of dialogue or scene featuring an item from a 1993 time capsule that elicited laughs from me or anyone else in the theater. 

Sarah: C'mon! What about the see-through phone?

Joe: Yes. I remember. And?

Sarah: What about Trapper Keepers?

Joe: Yes. I remember all of these things. But why does that make it funny?

Sarah: It doesn't. I just remember them too. The hollow name-checking extends to the sex talk. At one point Brandy, Fiona and Wendy are in the car talking about which verb should come after finger. It's not funny and my guess is that it exists for people to say, "OMG you called it X? We totally called it Y at my school!" There's recognition but nothing is really being said.


What Will You Be Thinking About Tomorrow?

Sarah: Brandy is 17 or 18 and played by Aubrey Plaza, who is 29. She plays the role with all the detachment and sexual confidence of 29, so watching her dry hump a creep is no big deal. But the casting is manipulative: Abigail Breslin is 17-- if we had to watch her blowing a skeezy lame musician in a shower, would it feel as casual? Or am I being too serious about the whole thing? It is a comedy.

Joe: But it's not funny. The lead character is a robot, she doesn't care about anyone – she's terrible to Cameron and her friends -- and she just wants the complete her "list." At the end of the film, she owns her behavior without any apologies. I can't laugh with someone I think is a piece of trash unless the movie admits that she is one, sort of like Charlize Theron's character in Young Adult. Here the movie presents us with a terrible lead it thinks is awesome. I can't laugh at that.

Sarah: Part of growing up means sometimes treating people poorly because you're trying to figure out your own mess. But this is something to mature out of and look back on with some regret, not something to celebrate. Owning it is embarrassing.



Sarah: The message here is that sex is sometimes a big deal and sometimes it isn't.  Unfortunately, I still wouldn't have known that after watching the movie for an hour and a half if it hadn't been plainly stated toward the end. Skip it.

Joe: Please don't eat it.


Sarah and Joe are writers/editors who live in Boston. They met in a bar and married within a year. They love to argue about early Woody Allen films and old romantic comedies. They both agree to hate musicals.

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