Over the past few years, there have been a string of female-driven teen comedies about girls grappling with pregnancy scares. It’s a striking commentary on growing up in America, where young women have more options than ever before when it comes to their reproductive health, but which are doled out in cruel and seemingly arbitrary ways. Plan B, directed by Natalie Morales, is maybe the best of the bunch. With honest, empathetic storytelling and endearing performances from a talented young cast, Plan B is a raucous coming-of-age road trip adventure that has tremendous energy and a massive heart.
Sunny (Kuhoo Verma) well and truly could not be a more awkward adolescent if she tried. Perpetually infantilized by her strict and demanding mother, she’s so horny and repressed it’s entirely possible that she might explode just from looking at another cardigan-clad teenager. When her best friend Lupe (Victoria Moroles) convinces her to commit to the ultimate high school comedy trope of throwing a kegger while her mother is out of town, Sunny vows that her sexual awakening will begin in earnest. But things don’t go exactly as planned: long story short, a condom may or may not have fit as snugly around the junk of an evangelical Christian as it maybe could have, and Sunny is forced into a desperate hunt for the Plan B contraceptive pill. If she lived in a state that respected the reproductive rights of women, all of this probably could be resolved with a quick trip to the pharmacy. But Sunny is a teenager in South Dakota, which makes her quest for birth control considerably more complicated.
The relationship between Sunny and Lupe is the emotional heart of Plan B. They are two progressive young women of color growing up in the conservative American heartland, trying to understand their own sexual identities amidst constant Christian messaging and health classes that compare a woman’s virginity to a car that, once used, will never have its brand new, straight off the lot value again. Fiercely devoted to one another, they navigate a world filled with anxiety and uncertainty together, having been failed by the adults in their lives, whom they consistently fear will not love them unconditionally. The mistakes they make in Plan B are upsetting to Sunny and Lupe because they’re afraid of putting their future in jeopardy, but more than that, they’re scared of doing (or being) something unredeemable in their parents’ eyes.
Although Plan B has its fair share of risque moments, the screenplay from writing duo Joshua Levy and Prathiksha Srinivasan is as pure as the driven snow. It’s filled with young characters who seem so genuine and well-intentioned that it’s a pleasure to watch them flit in and out of the larger narrative as Sunny and Lupe navigate around them. There are two swoon-worthy romantic interests in Hunter (Michael Provost) and Logan (Myha’la Herrold), who both come across as kind and entirely unproblematic sweethearts. Even Kyle (Mason Cook), the annoying overly religious kid who keeps trying to invite everyone to his church gatherings does so in a way that makes his awkward attempts to connect with the other students somehow endearing. Director Natalie Morales shows a talent for blending genuine sentiment with keen comedic sensibilities: this combined with her SXSW premiere Language Lessons have suddenly put her on a short list of promising new directors to watch in 2021.
If there’s a weak point in Plan B, it’s that as the night wears on, the adventures of Sunny and Lupe become increasingly broad and manic, slightly losing the connection to reality that grounded their exploits from the beginning. It suffers whenever Sunny and Lupe are fighting, so key to the success of the film is their relationship. Despite this, Plan B remains a remarkably consistent teen comedy, one that shines a light on how difficult and frustrating it can be for women to get proper reproductive healthcare in certain parts of the country without getting too bogged down in what is, let’s face it, a pretty depressing reality. By keeping the focus on the teen characters and the unique anxieties they have surrounding their rapidly developing sex lives, it avoids feeling like a “message” movie and allows Plan B to maintain its quirky sense of humor. It follows in the footsteps of films like Booksmart and Hala, but carves out its own space in the modern coming-of-age canon.
Plan B is available now on Hulu.