To Do: Watch The To Do List
Writer and director Maggie Carey shares how her high school experience inspired the most hilarious movie of the summer.
For Brandy Klark, this summer is all about sex. The To Do List chronicles Klark's (Aubrey Plaza) summer between high school and college and all the things (and people) she plans, well, to do. As valedictorian of her school's Class of '93, Klark's an academic whiz—but what she's got in smarts, she lacks in, ahem, "extracurriculars." The final item on her list? To lose her virginity to Rusty Waters (Scott Porter). The film includes a Richard Simmons aerobics routine from Rachel Bilson, a hilarious scene involving Andy Samberg, a certain sexual act and runny hair dye and a Bill Hader-masterminded prank that's going to make you want to vom. And then there's the irresistible throwback soundtrack ("Let's Talk About Sex" by Salt-n-Pepa? Perfection!) and hilariously, fabulously dated wardrobe.
While certain elements of the early '90s never die—denim-on-denim, anyone?—we hope that female-fronted comedies never will. Funny lady movies rule (Bridesmaids, The Heat, Bachelorette), and the mastermind behind this sex-tastic soon-to-be hit is writer/director Maggie Carey, who based many elements of the film on her own high school experiences. Read on to hear Carey discuss '90s fashion, Rachel Bilson's navel ring and being married to Bill Hader. And don't miss The To Do List, out July 26.
Lucky: This is going to be one of those movies that all girls can watch and laugh at with their best friends.
Maggie Carey: That’s actually my whole motivation for making the movie. I just wanted to make a movie that my high school girlfriends and I could laugh at. They’re going to see it next week, so hopefully they laugh.
So how exactly was this inspired by your real life?
I mean, the movie is definitely set in 1993—which is when I graduated high school—and in Boise, Idaho. There was never a list. But I think what I really wanted to capture was that feeling when you’re a teenage girl and you so badly want to know about sex but you aren’t having it, and how frustrating that could be. So it’s sort of your classic coming-of-age story.
How did you prepare to make this look and feel authentically '90s, down to the details?
I’m really close with my high school girlfriends and even before we went into production, we put together a lookbook to show production designers and costume designers. Fashion between the early '90s and late '90s was very different, so I just called my high school girlfriends and asked if they had any pictures or stuff from high school. They did, and they just sent boxes of it. I had photos of me and my friends in our high school bedrooms. I love how Brandy’s and Amber's (Brandy's older sister, played by Rachel Bilson) bedrooms came out. Rachel’s bedroom was exactly the colors of one of my friend’s bedrooms. I also gave our hair person my high school yearbook and we really just took different hairstyles and gave them to each character. But I do have to say that because it was Boise, Idaho in 1993, it’s more like 1988. It was a little more behind the times. The fashion trends came late, if at all, to Boise.
Were there '90s items that you just had to include?
Ryan Berg, our production designer, and his set decorator found that "husband pillow" and I was like, "Oh my God, that’s perfect." Everyone had that. And we have to mention my costume designer Trayce Gigi Field, who was amazing. She found the skort. The skort was always in the movie. That was always a written joke that always played really well at table reads and stuff but Trayce, she found the perfect skort. Not only was the wash perfect, but it had an actual zipper you could open and close. It was a very complicated skort. And there’s a Pee Wee Herman doll reference in there and Ryan and his brother, who was the art director, were like, “Oh, we have a Pee Wee Herman doll.” Perfect.
Sarah Steel’s character Wendy—the friend who’s very emotional but also very simple—her character always had a scrunchie. She actually got really tired of it—she was like, “Do I have to have a scrunchie?” And the answer was always yes. And then the Hypercolor shirt—I really wanted to get that in there and I kind of forced that. I bought one on Ebay. For the folks at home who don’t know what Hypercolor is, when you would get hot or warm the color would change, which in some ways was cool but was actually really gross because usually just guys wore it so it was just their armpits that would change color. Christopher Mintz-Plasse wears one in one of the scenes when he’s playing Sega.
Speaking of Rachel Bilson, how did you create her look as the slutty sister?
She wore lots of crop tops and high-waisted jeans or shorts or skirts—always with lots of midriff showing. She actually had a fake belly ring. I don’t think people really noticed that, but that was a big deal to have. I definitely referenced Cindy Crawford for her.
What was it like working with Aubrey Plaza? Was there any hesitation in having her play a teenager?
Oh, she’s awesome. We met years ago at UCB [Upright Citizens Brigade) Theater in New York. We were in improv classes together and I had done some comedy series on the web that I had cast her in. I actually wrote the movie with her in mind. We totally put her through the wringer. She was game for anything and really never hesitated on anything. The only time we ever had issues wasn’t with anything sexual, it was more if something wasn’t funny. She’s totally fearless and she is very unique. She is really good at making awkward silences awkward and funny.
I had worked with her on this web series where she was supposed to be 15, and people online totally bought it. To me, she seems young because she’s a good 10 years younger than I am. But then I love, too, just realizing the difference in my generation—I grew up watching the original 90210 where we had Andrea who was actually a woman in her 30s playing a 17-year-old teenager and I didn’t think twice about it. I grew up watching television where 20-year-olds play teenagers all the time.
So not only do you get to be married to Bill Hader, you also get to work with him. What was directing him like?
Super fun! He’s the best to have on set. And this is a really low budget movie so it’s really fun when you have someone like Bill who is always making the crew laugh and the crew break. Sometimes you know that a joke's going to be funny in the finished movie, but when you’ve seen it six times in a row, the energy on set can get a little tiresome. So when you have someone like Bill, who's improvising on take one and on the sixth take as well, it’s just really fun.
What was your own teenage fashion like?
I shopped in the boys section of the Gap, which I think a lot of my friends did. In my high school picture I’m wearing a denim shirt and jeans and Cameron (Johnny Simmons) is wearing that in one of the scenes of the movie. I was very preppy. But every once in a while I would beg my mom to let me buy an outfit from The Limited. Stirrup pants and headbands and long sweaters were big.
Yeah! Some of these looks are making a comeback, like denim-on-denim.
So is the floral denim. There’s this big joke in the movie...Brandy's friends tell her she needs to stop dressing like Tracy Gold from Growing Pains, and then it cuts to these denim shorts and matching floral jean jacket and it gets a huge laugh. And I’m like, go walk by Paige Jeans right now, because it’s all floral!
Flip through the slideshow to shop our modern take on '90s fashion.