Long held as the domain for cisgender straight white dudes wanting to get laid, there was an argument to be made that perhaps the raunchy teen sex comedy had run its course and was overdue for being put out to pasture. Many of the ones that we held in such high esteem in our youth are now only enjoyed through the lens of “well, it was socially acceptable at the time it came out”. Plan B offers the counterpoint that this genre of film can live on, but that it maybe just needs some new perspectives through which these stories are being told.
Depending on what you read, Plan B could be considered either the feature directing debut or the sophomore feature of director Natalie Morales. A veteran actor known from projects such as Parks and Recreation and Dead to Me, Morales was all set to start production on Plan B back in March of 2020 before the COVID pandemic shut everything down days before shooting began. Instead of waiting it out, Morales went ahead and co-wrote another feature with Mark Duplass, which Morales directed and the duo starred in together. That film, Language Lessons, played at Berlin and SXSW this year to glowing reviews hailing this exciting new voice behind the camera. Of course, before Language Lessons was released Morales had gone back and shot Plan B, making for a fascinating world where technically both features can be considered their feature debut.
Whichever way you look at it, the fact remains that both films are remarkable works, and the juxtaposition between the two immediately signals a range in what Morales is capable of and wants to take on, making for a lot of excitement thinking about what she is going to do next. For Plan B, she takes their love of teen sex comedies like Superbad and American Pie and thrives off that gift of subversion that comes from shifting not only the perspective but also the subject matter.
The “quest” of the teen quest comedy has historically often been about getting laid, a sign of what most cisgender boys are thinking about at that age, but Plan B illustrates two important things. One, teenage girls are just as horny as their male counterparts, something which is shown without any judgement in Sunny (Kuhoo Verma), a somewhat sheltered girl hoping to lose her virginity to her crush when she throws a house party while her mom is away. Secondly, those frivolous sexual escapades can sometimes have consequences, particularly for teen girls, as we see when a condom mishap forces Sunny to frantically search for a morning after birth control to try and protect against an unwanted pregnancy.
Thus initiates the quest of the film, as Sunny is sent on an odyssey, aided by her best friend Lupe (Victoria Moroles), across South Dakota to obtain the solution to her problem. The setting is crucial, as we see the obstacles put in place for young girls and women in this country to protect themselves, with Sunny and Lupe being denied help at a local pharmacy and forced to try and make the long trek to the city for a Planned Parenthood. Plan B, written by Joshua Levy and Prathiksha Srinivasan, doesn’t hide from the very real weight and seriousness of this dilemma that Sunny and Lupe are facing, yet it also benefits from exploring the full breadth of emotion and experience that these teenagers are going through at this crucial moment in their lives. Over the course of the film, the script takes these characters on a wild journey of exaggerated realities, but the heart of their struggle comes from a very real place.
Yes, this is a scary moment, but there’s also plenty of laughs and frivolity along the way. We’ve seen films with a storyline similar to this that are wallowing in the gravity of the situation, and there is a place for a film like that, but Plan B presents a different kind of experience, one whose representation on screen is just as crucial. It’s the fun romp we’ve always loved with a lot more on its mind than simply trying to make the next crude shock factor joke at the expense of women.
While the story contains a bevy of entertaining vignettes with plenty of energy and solid pacing, this film wouldn’t have been able to succeed by any measure if it weren’t for the chemistry of the two leads. Establishing that relationship with Sunny and Lupe, and investing the audience in these two ladies, is vital and the casting of Verma and Moroles is an absolute marvel. The two immediately spark on screen together, appearing as though they genuinely have been best friends their entire lives, and you don’t for a second doubt their full commitment to one another. Even when their relationship turns to some of the inevitable dramatic conflicts that are bound to come up in this type of film, the dimensionality of Verma and Moroles’ performances lends a credibility the film may have struggled to achieve if less suited actors had been cast in these roles.
Finding the core of the movie in that relationship between Sunny and Lupe is where Plan B shines brightest. You believe the reality of these two through all of their highs and lows, something which gives the audience this extra appeal as you’re taken on this whacky journey with plenty of hilarious hijinks. Morales clearly has an affinity for these types of movies, and it’s a delight that she was able to make one of their own that benefits so much from allowing the genre to explore this same structure through a new POV. Not many people would have batted an eye had the raunchy teen sex comedy been laid to rest, but Plan B is a wonderful example of how much importance is contained within the voices telling these stories, and how much value can come from a perspective outside of the ones that have dominated the landscape for so long.
Plan B will be available to stream on Hulu starting May 28th
Once upon a time, Josh and Prathi were my students. So proud!!
[…] of life for these two women at this age, filtered through that lens of the raunchy teen sex comedy (our review here). Recently I spoke with Morales about her whirlwind year, what makes Plan B so special, […]
[…] Directed by Natalie Morales from a script by Prathi Srinivasan and Joshua Levy, the film takes the antiquated teen sex comedy genre and updates it for our modern era with a fresh new perspective that subverts familiar tropes through the experience of these two young women of color. It’s a genuinely touching, and uproariously funny ride that makes you want to watch it again and again (our review here). […]