Sexuality in teen comedies has definitely evolved over the past 15 years. Characters are brought in to uncomfortable situations where certain sexual acts come off as awkward and laughable because, well, they are. It makes us feel a little better when watching a movie like The To-Do List. Writer and director Maggie Carey takes those feelings we’ve all had in the Aubrey Plaza-starring comedy.
Tell us about the story. We heard that it might be based on actual experiences?
Maggie Carey: No no no, I mean yes then no. They like to say ‘loosely based,’ no pun intended. Yes and no. I graduated high school in 1993 in Boise, Idaho. There are a lot of similarities between Brandy’s character and my high school self. I was in every AP class. I did not make a list, so that part I just wanted to clarify, but my friends and I talked about all of those very specific things on the list. The whole reason I wrote the movie was there are certain things that you just have to experience in order to understand them. It’s sort of your classic coming-of-age story, but for us, because none of us were having sex, we were just talking about it. We asked questions like did you French kiss? Did you make out? Did you neck? Did you get a hickey? Each little thing that you did with a boy was sort of like a skill or a badge on your girl scouts uniform, but you were slightly more experienced than your friends. So those little things were very important.
One thing that was important that I think is okay is I love how I had my actual diary from the ’90s and I was re-reading it when I wrote the script. I was really high-achieving. I did a lot of stuff and I had a lot going on, but in my diary entries I’m just boy crazy. There was a competitive soccer camp, I did really well in that but all I talked about was the boy I saw two fields over and did he notice me. We exchanged addresses and I would have to wait three weeks for him to write a letter that just said “Hey, nice to meet you” and then we’d never see each other again. I think it’s okay for a girl to… it doesn’t mean we were running around with our heads chopped off boy crazy. We were doing a lot of stuff. We were confident, young girls who were also really boy crazy.
Well, it happens to all of us. Girls are naturally gossipy when it pertains to that when you’re younger because we’re all learning.
Maggie Carey: Yes, exactly! I can’t speak for men, but I can speak for my friends and I in high school and college, and that’s where you learn half the stuff. [laughs] Also, all of those conversations, the next step after you have sex then it takes years to actually have an orgasm. You need, as a woman, you need all of those conversations because frankly the teenage boys are lousy at what they are trying to do. So you need your girlfriends to talk it through so next time out it goes better.
We really like all the comedic elements of it and how the much the production design harkened back to the early ’90s.
Maggie Carey: In Brandy’s room, all of the posters in her room, the Pearl Jam poster. They’re all my actual posters that I have. They’re the actual ones I had in my room. I saved them. Maybe that makes me a pack rat, but I saved them. When we got financing for the movie I contacted my high school girlfriends who I’m really close with and asked them if they had anything from the time, if they saved anything. They sent me boxes of stuff, so I had all our high school yearbooks that I gave to our hairstylist, so she could make Boise, Idaho hair in 1993 which is really 1988 for the rest of the country. We just picked specific looks from that yearbook and I had tons of pictures of my friends and I from our high school bedrooms and I was really specific with Amber, Rachel Bilson‘s character. Her room had to be that kind of mint green and peach, kind of the colors of the flamingo craze when it was really big and the Miami colors. So that was really fun to just show my production designer this is what our bedrooms look like.
It’s great to see Aubrey Plaza get more of the spotlight here. Can you talk a little bit about your collaboration with the actress?
Maggie Carey: Well we met at UCB Theater in New York. We were in an improv class together, and then I cast her in this web series I did. In that she plays very sarcastic, deadpan and angst-y teen girl, which she plays so well and does awesome on Parks and Recreation. I also knew her from improv so you would see her in a show and she’d play six different characters in one night. It was really fun to see her in a different role. I never really thought twice in casting her in something different because I saw the range she had then and I thought it would be really fun to have her there. Aubrey and I, when we talked about her character, I referred to it as Aubrey Plaza’s version of Tracy Flick from Election. I don’t know if you’ve seen that movie but it’s one of my favorite movies and that was sort of my barometer for the character.
There are also the bright and wonderful comedians in the film that do all sorts of sexual acts with the leading lady.
Maggie Carey: [laughs] Yeah, the cast is awesome! Obviously Bill Hader, his character’s name was Willie which wasn’t a big stretch there. He had no choice but to do the movie. Aubrey, Bill, I and my producer Jennifer Todd, we reached out to actors that we are fans of and are friends with, because this is a really low-budget movie. Aubrey worked with Scott Porter on a movie and they were out karaoke-ing and he can really sing. She texted me at 2 a.m. and asked ‘What about Scott Porter for Rusty Waters?’ Yes. Of course. No problem. So we really reached out to our friends and that’s how we put the cast together. The strength of the movie is the ensemble. It’s such a great cast.
The To-Do List is out in theaters now.