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Honor Student's Approach To Sex Makes For A Raunchy 'To Do List'

Aubrey Plaza (left) and Rachel Bilson star in the new comedy <em>The To Do List</em>, written and directed by Maggie Carey.
Bonnie Osborne
CBS Films
Aubrey Plaza (left) and Rachel Bilson star in the new comedy The To Do List, written and directed by Maggie Carey.

There's no shortage of R-rated male buddy comedies, but this summer's raunchy flick — complete with drinking, sex and swimming pools — isn't one of them. The To Do List, written and directed by Maggie Carey and starring Aubrey Plaza, chronicles the coming-of-age, sexual escapades of a teenage girl.

Set in Boise, Idaho, in the 1990s, Plaza plays Brandy Klark, an overachieving valedictorian who excels at all things academic. But she's woefully inexperienced in the extracurriculars that have distracted her classmates for years, and she sets out to change that in the summer before she goes to college.

Brandy consults her older sister, who has much more experience, and makes a list of all the things she wants to do. "She attacks sex, and trying to figure it out like she would if she was studying for an AP exam," Carey tells NPR's Renee Montagne.

Interview Highlights

On drawing on her own experience to create Brandy's character

"The movie is set in 1993 in Boise, Idaho, and I graduated high school in 1993 in Boise, Idaho. So there are definitely some similarities there, and I must admit there are personality traits that are very similar to myself and Brandy when I was in high school. I was in every AP class. I also played a ton of sports, I was in student council.

"... I lost my virginity years later, on my wedding night, if my parents are listening. No, I was nowhere near having sex in high school, but I was incredibly curious. You know, I'm drawn to that classic coming-of-age story where when you're young and you so badly want to know about something, but there are certain things in life, the only way to understand them is to actually experience them."

On making sure the vocabulary stayed true to '90s vocabulary

"I was very conscious on the list [of experiences Brandy wants to have] that all of those were things that we talked about at the time. There's even — I'm not sure what I can say — but there's one term that has the word 'finger' in it, and when I actually had early drafts of the script I had three different friends who all had a different name for it from when they were in high school, and they were correcting me because they were from different regions of the country.

" ... I kept switching back between '93 and '94 because I really wanted to get a Friends joke in there, but Friends hadn't come out. But I really did want it to be before the Internet as we know it existed, and before cellphones were widely used."

This is a very low budget independent movie and when I was trying to get it financed I would describe it as 'a dirty Sixteen Candles.'

On how she was influenced by Pretty in Pink and Sixteen Candles, and other John Hughes' movies

"This is a very low-budget independent movie, and when I was trying to get it financed, I would describe it as 'a dirty Sixteen Candles.' I'm a huge fan of John Hughes' movies, Pretty in Pink, Breakfast Club. I grew up watching those movies, and I really responded obviously to Molly Ringwald, and I loved her various characters she played. But what I loved about his movies, Sixteen Candles, for example, he had very broad moments of comedy, you know, you have the nerds holding up Molly Ringwald's underwear in the bathroom. But then he also had very sweet moments between Molly Ringwald and her father on the couch late at night."

On romantic "firsts" not always being fun

"I think at least on the female side, when you are discovering a lot of these things, it's not as if the first time you have [a] french kiss it's a great kiss. It's usually lousy, and I just sort of played with that idea. You know, that all of these firsts are awkward, they are not romantic, you know, you aren't swept off your feet. They're kind of gross, and I just really wanted to deal with that honestly, and also I just saw it with huge comedic potential."

On making the set really feel like the '90s

"I called my high school girlfriends and asked them if they had any stuff left from the '90s to show as an example, and they sent me boxes of stuff. So we have photos of ourselves in our teenage girls' bedrooms which is definitely apparent in Rachel Bilson, her character Amber's bedroom. And no one will know this, but on the bulletin board there's my ticket stub to the MC Hammer/Vanilla Ice at the Boise State Pavilion, and then Vanilla Ice didn't show. MC Hammer did, and MC Hammer made it into the soundtrack of the movie. So I finally got back at Vanilla."

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