Review: The To-Do List (2013)

Since a spoiler-free review really would not do justice to what was so great about the film and why I want to recommend and discuss it, warnings for slight (and more) spoilers ahead. If you have not seen the movie yet and do not want to have anything revealed ahead of time, please skip the “read more” cut and this post. Otherwise, read on for a list of some highlights from the film in terms of representations of gender and sexuality.

  • Brandy has a mother who she can talk about sex to and receive accurate information and assistance from, including information about and an actual tube of lube. And her mother is not ashamed of hers or her daughters’ sexuality, although she does struggle with finally telling her husband that he was not the first person she had sex with and the repercussions that result from that (the repercussions being her husband’s reaction, which was the reason for her duplicity in the first place) and with his reluctance to have his daughters know anything about sex and sexuality.
  • Brandy and her more conventionally attractive and sexually experienced sister are not enemies. They have an overall good relationship and that and the assistance, advice, and support they offer each other gets screen time.
  • Girls talk about sex. Girls like sex. Girls ‘want’ sex. And the movie is open and honest about this. And also acknowledges it in the first place. And the talk from Brandy’s friends about sex and Brandy’s own reactions and notes (and how they are handled and shot in the film) also acknowledge that it isn’t always great.
  • Women masturbate. And also can commonly feel that it is something they should not do and that they should deny and hide it if they do. The film also actually shows Brandy in bed in a top and underwear masturbating and includes sounds to go with the full, clear view of what is going on. This was something I was somewhat surprised to see, especially given the MPAA’s treatment of female sexuality and sexual pleasure when determining ratings, and happy with because of that fact and the inclusion of sounds, because that is something women commonly go in not knowing about and then feel embarrassed and ashamed about and wonder what they can do to fix it (when of course noises are perfectly normal and natural because there are one or more bodies and their natural fluids involved).
  • Accurate information about sex is hard to find for ‘everyone’, as is information about female pleasure and what is normal when it comes to female sexuality and sexual response, such as that it is normal for women not to orgasm from penetration alone, when women who do not orgasm from penetration alone are treated as and learn to view themselves as broken and as failures and to wonder why their body does not work “right.” Brandy is shocked to learn this and, in keeping with her character and the premise of the movie, sets out to learn all she can and to actively do something about it when it comes to her personal sex life, such as requesting the girl on top position when she has PIV (penis in vagina) intercourse with Rusty because it will significantly increase her chance of orgasm.
  • The movie acknowledges that men are not monoliths and that they can and do have different feelings about sex and sexual acts (and that those feelings can and do evolve and change). Cameron originally thinks that a hand job equals a (monogamous, romantic and sexual) relationship contract and it causes conflict between him and Brandy because he thinks she has cheated on him in a relationship that does not actually exist. Rusty Waters thinks feelings have nothing to do with sex (and Cameron the opposite) as he states in his tussle with Cameron but he also mentions that Brandy’s shame-free view of having had sex with and losing her virginity to him is not how girls typically react and that usually they are ashamed of having had sex with him. Duffy will take any sex he can get and Derrick comes to Brandy because he has gotten feedback from previous girlfriends that he is not good at cunnilingus and he wants the opportunity to practice and improve (with someone non-judgemental and safe) before he enters into another relationship.
  • The other lifeguards and some young boys in the pool try to embarrass Brandy by stealing and passing around her swim top, which fell off after she went down the slide and which she tried to grab and put back on. Their attempt to embarrass her does not work. It “should” work and we as an audience would expect the scene to end in Brandy tearfully covering herself with her hands and running off in shame because here in the United States it is not only illegal (with rare exception) for a woman to be topless in public but considered inherently embarrassing and shameful for her to end up topless. Which is why pranks like untying a woman’s swimsuit stop, stealing her bathing suit, etc, happen. But Brandy does not tearfully run away covering her chest with her hands ‘or’ accept the shirt her male friend (and fellow lifeguard) took off and offered her. Even after they shut down her comeback about women in Europe going topless by saying she has tiny breasts (which they had also previously been mocking her for) Brandy does not care and simply walks off.
  • Consent is explicitly asked for (and given). And for a kiss. And it is the town “bad boy” who does this.
  • During the “big” confrontation between Rusty Waters, after Brandy has PIV intercourse with him, and Cameron, Brandy tells each guy a list of positives about him and they respond with very typical/expected questions and expect similar answers about how she is going to feel after having sex with (and losing her virginity to), in Rusty’s case, or deciding not to enter into a relationship with, in Cameron’s case, them. But Brandy does not regret having sex with and losing her virginity to Rusty, the town “bad boy,” and also does not regret that she is not interested in a relationship with Cameron, who is great “relationship material.” This goes contrary to expectations, which would have Brandy ashamed and regretful over the sex with Rusty and deeply saddened over the missed chance at great relationship (and, by extension, great ‘marriage’) material in Cameron. The sex with Rusty was not great (and he also expressed afterwards that he’s a “meat and potatoes” guys and that he prefers and would have lasted longer at, and thus would have been able to satisfy her, with missionary style PIV intercourse) but it also was not shameful and Brandy wants to repair and maintain her friendship with Cameron but is not interested in a romantic relationship with him and won’t pretend to be in order to make him happy or to fit expectation.
  • Brandy does not end up with Cameron or regret and renounce all the (consensual) outside of marriage or a romantic relationship sex she has had. The movie does end with them engaging in a number of sex acts but it’s further on in time and they both have the same understanding of what they want and expect out of the sex, as opposed to earlier in the film when Cameron thought that a hand job equalled a relationship agreement and Brandy wanted to try out a new sex act. There are no hurt feelings and more communication (and lube) than before and it is a nice (and fun, in keeping with the film’s comic tone) note to end the film on.

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