Monday, January 20, 2014

The To Do List

The To Do List is a 2013 sex comedy with a twist: the main character isn't a horn-dog dude, but a virginal girl who takes to sex like she takes to everything: with a list and a can-do attitude. It got middling reviews and did less-than-expected business--and I have to think that some of that has to do with the gender swap. I mean, one reviewer complained that it was vulgar and kept trying to top its vulgar jokes, which I can imagine him saying about a male-focused sex comedy--or about any comedy. But with films like The Hangover, that sort of review doesn't keep people away.

At the same time, as I was watching it with Sarah, we kept noticing all the markers of 90s-era life--hypercolor shirts and mix-tapes and VCRs. And the soundtrack wasn't exactly Top 40, but it was all name bands with their top hits. And though there's probably a fair amount of ex-90s teens around, it seemed like niche-marketing, in a way. I couldn't imagine a kid today watching that film and connecting with the protagonist because so much of the surrounding environment has changed. Back in the day, if you heard of something called "motorboating," why not assume it has to do with a boat? But today, you can just Google it.
(Me: "I'm not sure these terms were in use in the 90s."
Sarah: "Yes, sex was invented when you started doing it.")
And maybe that 90s-era confusion about sex was part of the point. I mean, if you did it today, the protagonist could look up a lot of porn online and then be confused by the massive amount of information (and misinformation)--but that would be a different kind of film. So while the period setting might be limiting, I also see it as contributing to the character's journey.

So there's one shitty reason why this film didn't do so well (people can't deal with women characters interested in sex); one reason that can't entirely be helped (the 90s setting); and here's a final reason that could've been helped: some of the jokes and characters and story-lines don't all come together. Take Clark Gregg as the conservative dad--who, towards the end of the film, with no real character reason, turns into a laissez faire sort of dad who just wants his daughter to use lube. And while most of the characters are struggling with some form of growing up (the boss at the pool, the sister marrying an absent jerk, and the main character), there's this whole other theme of friends and what they owe to each other. It doesn't quite gel.

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