Plan B has its heart and messaging in the right place, but frequently undercuts its intent with one-step-forward-two-steps-back developments.
At first glance, director Natalie Morales’s Plan B appears to follow the beaten track trod by so many coming-of-age films before it, as two hormone-addled best friends — and polar opposites — throw an impromptu bash when mom is away on a business trip. The twist in the template, then, is that this section comprises only the first thirty minutes. Whereas the likes of Superbad and Booksmart — this film’s obvious inspirations — detailed the journey to and through said party, Plan B is more concerned with the aftermath, as the straight-laced Sunny (Kuhoo Verma) soon discovers that the condom used in her previous night’s unplanned first time is still stuck inside her. Fearing an unwanted pregnancy that would result in the loss of a future she has worked so hard to obtain, Sunny sets out with her slacker bestie Lupe (Victoria Moroles) to obtain the eponymous wonderdrug, a task that will prove more difficult than the two ever imagined.
What follows are your basic teen road-movie shenanigans given a distinctly 21st-century sheen, meaning there will be a ton of pop culture references — Billie Eilish’s dog, “Christian warrior” Chris Pratt — and plenty of raunchy humor. But despite that predictability, Plan B is a bit of an odd duck, in that it has such clear intent to buck the lighthearted conventions of the genre — seen in everything from the structure of the story itself to its politically-charged messaging — yet slavishly adheres to so many of those same conventions throughout. The fact that this is a female-led tale is, as always in the male-centric movie machine, welcome, but as the chorus of female voices grows in cinema, this development doesn’t necessarily boast the inherent weight it once did. The casting of minorities in its lead roles — Indian and Mexican, respectively — is likewise laudable and still too rare, but the film’s skin-deep portrayal of these cultures is less appreciated. And fundamentally, that is the essential problem with Plan B: every step forward is marred by two steps back. It is hard to know what to make of a scene where the two girls fight over who is going to give a blow job to the Plan B-holding drug dealer on the children’s playground late at night, and why anyone felt it to necessary to feature numerous shots of Sunny’s face inches away from said dealer’s naked penis. Yes, this is all a setup for a raunchy sight gag, and an argument could fairly be made that the scene’s explicit nature builds its tenor of absurdity; it’s even easy to read it as a bit of karmic comeuppance for this blatant example of toxic masculinity. But this is to ignore the potential trauma of such an experience for these two seventeen-year-old girls, and the film plays it off like nothing more than another wacky adventure on their rollicking road trip, never to be mentioned again.
Plan B suffers from the same problem that afflicted Booksmart: namely, that it strives to be emotionally authentic while continuously placing its characters in over-the-top scenarios that often times strips them of their relatability, all in the name of a few laughs. There’s also something rather problematic about a mid-film twist regarding one of the lead characters, a reveal that is likely to first elicit an enthusiastic reponse from viewers but which then quickly registers as more of a “Huh?” when reflected on for even a few seconds. The fact that such a detail is used as a twist in the year 2021 feels somehow simultaneously progressive and regressive, which is a fairly apt assessment of Plan B on the whole. Actress and comedienne Morales proves competent behind the camera in her feature debut — at least to be officially released, after Language Lessons premiered at Berlin earlier this year — although she comes from the recent school of indie filmmaking that insists every movie must be shot in Cinemascope even though absolutely nothing of interest is done with the wider compositions. First-time screenwriters Joshua Levy and Prathiksha Srinivasan do introduce one particular wrinkle to this tired teen formula by sketching the parental units as prominent figures in these young girls’ lives, understanding that the individuals who can cause the most stress are also oftentimes the biggest support system, capable of breaking molds and surprising in unexpected ways. There’s also a nice little moral in here about freedom of choice and the importance of Planned Parenthood, currently chilling in crisis mode across the country amid a perpetual assault of ignorance. So if the flawed but heartfelt Plan B can provide some sort of balm or hope to viewers in this regard, it’s an ethical win. But just imagine what could be achieved if a truly great film supported this necessary messaging.
You can stream Natalie Morales’s Plan B on Hulu beginning on May 28.