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‘Plan B’: Film Review

  Kuhoo Verma (left) and Victoria Moroles play Sunny and Lupe in 'Plan B,' a Hulu original comedy about two teens in search of the morning after pill. Brett Roedel/Hulu

Last year, a pair of strong, tonally divergent films told stories of teen girls forced to circumvent a cruel lack of access to reproductive health services. Never Rarely Sometimes Always, Eliza Hittman’s astute and sobering drama, followed a 17-year-old and her cousin from rural Pennsylvania to New York as they sought an abortion for the former. A few months later, Unpregnant, a raucous comedy directed by Rachel Lee Goldenberg, chronicled the adventures of two friends on a similar mission.

As the most recent addition to the ever-evolving subgenre, Plan B risked becoming a tired rehash of its predecessors. But thanks to Natalie Morales’ assured direction and knockout performances by the two leads, this spirited and affecting Hulu original steers decisively clear of that fate: Plan B begins as a classic teen comedy that, over the course of roughly two hours, distinguishes itself as an empathetic and quick-witted portrayal of how two friends grow up together.

As in most buddy comedies, Sunny (Kuhoo Verma) and Lupe (Victoria Moroles) could not be more different. Sunny — very shy and incredibly smart — is desperate to escape the watchful eye of her Indian mother and have sex with her crush. Lupe, feistier and more rebellious, spends her time entertaining a string of lovers and eschewing her religious Mexican father’s pleas for her to dress — to paraphrase him — less ridiculously. The two bond over being outcasts at their predominately white high school in South Dakota.

Early scenes, which take place in the locker rooms, gym, classrooms and halls of said institution, efficiently establish Sunny and Lupe’s dynamic. Sunny bemoans her lack of sexual experience, while Lupe oscillates between playfully making fun of her and assuring her that her time will come soon. Their hilarious conversations, dripping in sarcasm and performed with a blithe ease, are sometimes interrupted by secondary characters who brilliantly make the most of their screen time — notably, mean girl Megan (Gus Birney) deploring Lupe’s armpit hair and Kyle (Mason Cook), an exasperating Christian boy, trying to impress the two friends with his magic tricks.

When Megan’s party gets cancelled (because her dad accidentally shot himself in the foot), Lupe offers Sunny’s house up for an impromptu Friday night rave (Sunny’s mom is out of town for the weekend). The plan is simple, really: get Sunny and her equally shy but predictably more popular crush, Hunter (Michael Provost), in the same place so the two can finally hook up.

Of course, that’s not what ends up happening. Hunter leaves the party early to drive a dangerously drunk Megan home, and a disappointed Sunny has sex with Kyle instead. The next morning, the used condom falls out of her vagina, and a panicked Sunny and Lupe rush to the pharmacy to buy Plan B. The pharmacist at the counter refuses to sell the pill to them, citing a ridiculous, but real, South Dakota legal clause that allows providers to deny minors access to contraceptive pills if it goes against their own morals.

Plan B’s charm deepens when Sunny and Lupe embark on a three-hour drive to a Planned Parenthood in a different city. Prathiksha Srinivasan and Joshua Levy’s sharp script is elevated by Verma and Moroles’ natural chemistry, the actresses feeding off of each other’s energy and adding texture to their characters through animated facial expressions. In one particularly fine sequence, Sunny and Lupe cruise down the highway, listening to a low-key catchy Christian trap song with a chorus that repeats the line “do it all for Jesus.” Lupe, whose father is a pastor, timidly looks at Sunny, trying to gauge her reaction. They sit in silence until Sunny admits, “it’s kind of good,” and Lupe relaxes, confessing that she secretly loves the song. “Who are you?” Sunny replies half-jokingly. It’s a sweet exchange that reflects a particular kind of experience within close friendships: that moment when, reaching a new level of comfort, you unabashedly reveal a hidden part of yourself.

Over the course of the film, Sunny and Lupe’s road-trip adventures become increasingly outlandish, but even the most tired genre tropes feel fresh when filtered through these two leads. It’s worth noting, too, that the fact that Plan B needs to be taken within 72 hours (the first 24 being optimal) heightens the narrative stakes of the film. As they travel through South Dakota, the duo find themselves in desperate situations — including one where they fight over who will give a drug dealer a blow job in exchange for fake IDs — that naturally test the strength of their friendship. These situations also yield surprisingly introspective moments that enrich our understanding of Sunny and Lupe, imbuing them with personality and dimension beyond the fact that they’re both daughters of immigrants.

Plan B is not by any means a completely consistent film — the latter half suffers from an uneven pace, and some of Sunny and Lupe’s blowouts feel unearned considering their mutual admiration — but it takes its subjects seriously, and gives teen girls of color license to have fun and make mistakes. Coming on the heels of her well-received Berlinale-bowing film Language Lessons, this delightful feature confirms Morales as a director to keep an eye on.
Full credits

Distributor: Hulu
Production companies: American High, Counterbalance Entertainment, LD Entertainment
Cast: Kuhoo Verma, Victoria Moroles, Michael Provost, Myha'la Herrold, Jolly Abraham, Mason Cook
Director: Natalie Morales
Screenwriters: Joshua Levy, Prathiksha Srinivasan
Producers: Ryan Bennett, Jeremy Garelick, Josh Heald, Dina Hillier, Jon Hurwitz, Mickey Liddell, Matt Lottman, Will Phelps, Hayden Schlossberg, Pete Shilaimon
Executive producers: Chris Bongirne, Michael Glassman
Cinematographer: Sandra Valde-Hansen
Production designer: Nate Jones
Costume designer: Lindsay Monahan
Editor: Nathan Orloff
Casting directors: Kathleen Chopin, Jill Anthony Thomas

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