For Gen Z, getting birth control should be easier than ever and abortion access is a right, and yet women’s bodily autonomy is still under attack. Last year, there were two films about teens helping each other cross state lines in order to receive the health care they desperately need: Eliza Hittman’s neo-realistic drama “Never Rarely Sometimes Always” and Rachel Lee Goldenberg’s buddy comedy “Unpregnant.” Both films show how access to unfettered health care for teen girls is a state-by-state issue, hitting hardest in rural America.
Set in South Dakota, Natalie Morales’ directorial debut “Plan B” starts out in the vein of other recent female-led teen sex comedies like “Booksmart”: BFFs Sunny (Kuhoo Verma) and Lupe (Victoria Moroles) are horny and ready to do something about it. Both girls have strict parents—Sunny’s mom imposes Indian traditions on her daughter, Lupe’s father is a pastor. When we first meet Sunny she’s using an anatomy book for masturbation material first thing in the morning. Lupe starts the day with her siblings around a breakfast table, her father saying her streaked hair and black lipstick make her look like a depressed skunk.
Morales’ “Plan B” takes the tropes of a teen sex comedy on the road, and like in “Unpregnant,” morphs what should be a simple road trip into a Kafka-esque journey. The blending of these two related genres keeps the action of the film at a lively pace, and also allows Sunny and Lupe to meet a myriad of bizarre characters, who at turns aid or deter them as they go on their mission. While the comedic tone in “Plan B” is broad and zany, Morales manages to keep an emotional honesty at its core.
After we meet the girls in their respective homes, we see what life is like for them at school. In gym class, Sunny checks out her crush from afar, while her blonde rival shamelessly flirts with him. In the locker room, the same girl hurls insults at them, although our plucky heroines shoot volleys right back. Things take a turn for the better while in a painfully outdated sex-ed class. Sunny and her crush Hunter (Michael Provost) share a spark after they poke holes in a terrible metaphor comparing women’s virginity to a used car. Lupe pushes Sunny to keep up the momentum by inviting him to a party they’re now going to throw.
After seeing Hunter leave the party with the mean girl who always makes Sunny’s life hell, she makes an impulsive decision to have sex with someone else at the party. The next day she realizes the condom stayed inside her all night, horrified she and Lupe head to the only pharmacy in their small town for the Plan B pill. However, citing the “conscience clause” the pharmacist refuses to sell the pill to the underage girls. Their only other option? Stealing Sunny’s mom’s van in order to get to the closest Planned Pregnancy, three hours away in Rapid City. Unfortunately, the pair are side-tracked by bad GPS directions, creepy dudes in a gas station parking lot, a shady teen drug dealer who isn’t sure his product is Plan B or PCP, and Lupe’s impulsive decision to take the girls to a remote bowling alley where her crush is playing in a band.
The most important part of a film about best friends is that they feel like best friends. Verma and Moroles have excellent chemistry together, and both are as funny as hell. It seems a trope now in teen movies that one girl is straight and the other is queer, but frankly, considering LGBTQ+ characters have been historically underrepresented in film, it’s still great to see it in this film. Here, both girls are hiding something about their sexuality from each other—despite seeming as if they tell each other everything. Your best friend knows you better than anyone, and that makes admitting something that could change how they see you the scariest thing of all.
Another new trope in recent teen films is feminist teenage boys who actually respect passionate, smart teen girls. We saw this earlier this year in Amy Poehler’s “Moxie,” and we see it again here. Sunny runs into Hunter at the bowling alley concert, where their spark is toked into a full-on flame. It’s refreshing to see boys in movies be just as nervous to talk to smart girls, as the smart girls are to talk to them. Equality for everyone!
The film also does a superb job of showing just exactly how remote and isolated certain parts of this country are, and yet can feel so small. South Dakota is the seventeenth largest by area, but the 5th least populous with a population of fewer than one million people. Much of the plot moves forward because the various characters they run into happen to know each other. The insularity is also used for a running joke. Every time Sunny sees another person of Indian descent she’s afraid the “Indian mafia” will report back to her mother.
While the film’s script by Joshua Levy and Prathiksha Srinivasan definitely follows a formula, its path is bizarre and delightful. Like many actors-turned-directors, Morales has a clear talent for guiding her cast through complex emotions. Verma’s performance as Sunny is particularly layered, moving from broad comedic set pieces to a gut-wrenching breakdown in the Planned Parenthood’s parking lot with ease. Morales is also deft at using music to set the tone, dropping Peach’s “F— The Pain Away” while Sunny is psyching herself up during her party, or the revelation of Lupe’s love for Christian trap music.
Like any good road trip movie, the destination is not really the point. The internal journey is what matters. The trials and tribulations of this one crazy night bring them closer together as friends and give them the confidence to show their parents who they really are as well. While “Plan B” might follow a familiar map, the back roads it takes make for a unique ride. [B]
“Plan B” is available now on Hulu.