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'Plan B' Is A Winning Comedy With Some Painful Truths

Lupe (Victoria Moroles) and Sunny (Kuhoo Verma) are snubbed at the pharmacy when Lupe needs a morning-after pill.
Brett Roedel
Lupe (Victoria Moroles) and Sunny (Kuhoo Verma) are snubbed at the pharmacy when Lupe needs a morning-after pill.

Few films walk a tonal tightrope as tricky as the one undertaken by Plan B, a terrific out-all-night comedy now available on Hulu that manages to combine the energy of Booksmart with the compassion for teenagers and their parents of Blockers. It adds, however, a refreshing and rare — at least until recently — willingness to tell a story about one of the things that can genuinely create a desperate situation for a girl this age: access to reproductive health care.

In this case, Sunny (Kuhoo Verma) is a South Dakota high school student whose first sexual encounter is unsatisfying and regrettable even before she realizes that a birth-control mishap means she's at risk of getting pregnant. (It's worth noting that out of all the birth-control mishaps you've seen in movies, this is one of the least shown but most plausible, particularly for teenagers whose sex education has been patchy and incomplete.) She knows her best chance to guard against pregnancy at this point is the morning-after pill (the titular Plan B), but when she goes with her best friend Lupe (Victoria Moroles) to get it, she's denied by the local pharmacist for the simple reason that he doesn't wish to give it to her. He explains that under South Dakota law, that means he doesn't have to — even if she has no other option. "My hands are tied, morally speaking," he says with a smile.

Thus begins a trek to a Planned Parenthood location three hours away in Rapid City, with the girls up against a clock that's constantly ticking, since Sunny needs to take the pill within a relatively short time. As it does in any good buddy road movie, fate intercedes to throw all kinds of obstacles in front of Sunny and Lupe, from an unexpected encounter with Lupe's online crush to a guy selling random pills out of a toolbox to problems with the van they're driving and cell-service dead zones that require them to try to figure out how to read a paper map.

Wacky set pieces? Check! A horror send-up as the girls escape a dodgy party house? Check! An encounter with a quirky convenience store clerk (Edi Patterson) who gives incomprehensible directions? Check! These are the things that you expect from a film like this, and it delivers them with style and good humor.

But what a breath of fresh air it is to see all this comfortably alongside such frank consideration of the position in which Sunny finds herself. There's a smart and understated scene that serves to underscore the fact that because Sunny has to worry about getting pregnant, she doesn't get to reflect on this sexual experience in the unguarded way the boy who was involved in it does: as a simple matter of whether she regrets it in any personal or moral or ethical sense. Instead, she has to spend her time on concrete problems, like whether she's going to get pregnant. And as we discover, much of her world has been built to make pregnancy more likely once she has sex at all. She seems to have had spotty education about birth control for a 17-year-old, she's unable to get the backup method she asks for, and her relationship with her mother — who could help, if going to her seemed like an option — is complicated by how they both feel about sex.

The Plan B script is from collaborators Prathi Srinivasan and Joshua Levy, who have worked on projects including the YouTube series Bollyweird (and who both worked on iZombie). It's directed by actress Natalie Morales, who also directed the film Language Lessons, which she and Mark Duplass wrote and starred in together. (Filmed during the pandemic, it won a Narrative Spotlight award at South by Southwest in March and is expected to be released later this year.) The creators and the cast deserve enormous credit for how deftly the broader comedy here is balanced with genuine fear and frustration, and how unexpectedly parts of the film unfold. A lot of it is somehow structurally familiar but specifically surprising.

One example: There is a charmer of a scene in a diner that's simply a boy and a girl eating and talking, and it advances the plot far less than it infuses the film with a generosity toward everyone in it, not just Sunny and Lupe. There are moments for these girls that are terrible, but also ones that are heartening and touching. And there's still plenty of time for the raunchy comedy that gives the film its TV-MA rating. (Although as always, the obligatory note: Ratings are chuckle-headed, for the most part! Your teenager would be way better off watching this, for my money, than the countless dopey shootouts that wiggle in under the TV-14/PG-13 banner.)

This is a gentle, goofy, sweet and frank story about the importance of your best friends, the fact that people often love you more than you fear they will, and the concrete consequences of public policy debates that often don't even include the people who will navigate those consequences. Sunny and Lupe are marvelous and rootable protagonists, and they would be even if the emergency they face seemed fanciful, as it is when people wind up running from criminals or misunderstandings. But, of course, it's not. And the film is more valuable for it.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Linda Holmes is a pop culture correspondent for NPR and the host of Pop Culture Happy Hour. She began her professional life as an attorney. In time, however, her affection for writing, popular culture, and the online universe eclipsed her legal ambitions. She shoved her law degree in the back of the closet, gave its living room space to DVD sets of The Wire, and never looked back.