The more things change, the more they stay the same.
That axiom is particularly true for teen movies. Gone (for the most part) is the inherent sexism and racism that pervaded some of the most iconic adolescent fare of yesteryear. May we never have a character like Long Duk Dong again. Teen movies have become more diverse in sexual orientation, in racial, ethnic and socioeconomic background. Thankfully, the male gaze no longer dominates the medium. But although decades have passed, many of the tropes of teen movies remain the same. There are wild parties when the parents are out of town. There are mean girls. And popular boys who seem out of reach. Clueless teachers. The quest to lose your virginity. And a bucket list of things to accomplish before graduation.
This meeting of past and present is on full display in Plan B which puts a new spin on one of the tried and true plots of the genre—the road trip. Sunny (Kuhoo Verma) is a responsible student trying to do everything right. Her best friend Lupe (Victoria Moroles) seems to walk more on the wild side, but it’s really just bravado hiding some inner insecurity. When Sunny’s mom Rosie (Jolly Abraham) goes out of town for a real estate convention, Lupe convinces Sunny to throw a party to get the attention of Hunter (Michael Provost). “Who plays hockey in a cardigan? He’s like an athletic librarian,” Sunny sighs.
But after one too many shots of some very questionable alcoholic punch (pickle juice is involved), Sunny has sex for the first time with the super religious and super geeky Kyle (Mason Cook from the late, great TV series Speechless). The next morning, to her horror, Sunny discovers the condom and its contents have been inside her all night long. The quest for the Plan B pill begins.
All films require a willing suspension of disbelief and Plan B does need its viewers to not ask too many questions. Suffice to say a lot of Sunny and Lupe’s problems could have been solved by a simple Google search on their phones. But once you set aside any lingering doubts, the movie is a delight. That’s in large part due to first-time director Natalie Morales. Morales, known for her roles on Parks & Recreation, The Middleman and Dead to Me, clearly understands these characters and the emotional angst of high school. Perhaps because Morales is an actress herself, she’s even more conscious of ensuring that the female leads are treated with the respect they deserve.
The movie is self-aware of the long line of films that have come before it. “She’s conveniently out of town and according to every teen movie we’ve seen, this is the perfect time to throw a party,” Lupe says. But it’s groundbreaking by bringing these tropes to characters of diverse backgrounds. “Partying and drinking. I feel so stimulated. Is this what white privilege feels like?” Sunny wonders. Subtle and not-so-subtle racism is a part of Sunny and Lupe’s daily lives. Characters think Sunny’s house will smell like curry and speak over-enunciated Spanish to Lupe.
As charming and delightful as they are, Sunny and Lupe aren’t that different from teen characters we’ve seen before. But when Sunny jokes about the Indian mafia, an intricate web of Indian parents whom she is convinced will report everything to her mother, it brings some cultural truth to the movie while also being hilarious.
Perhaps the biggest step Plan B takes is its chipping away at one of the most enduring teen movie stereotypes—that sex is bad. That teenage girls who have sex are bad. That teenage girls who have sex with more than one person are sluts. “First of all, you are not a slut, that word is a bullshit double standard,” Hunter tells Sunny. It’s a small thing that means a lot to have the lead male character be the one to say this. The only nudity in the movie is male. At no point does a female character appear in a bikini. Sure, a movie’s first job is to be entertaining, but these kinds of changes have an enduring impact.
Plan B views these young women with a forgiving, compassionate eye. It understands the worry that our best friend may feel differently about us if we reveal all our secrets. The movie knows that growing up isn’t easy. That mistakes will be made and lessons will be learned. That as adults, we are the sum of our experiences. I’m making the movie sound much more serious than it is. More than anything, the script, by Prathi Srinivasan and Joshua Levy, is funny. And Plan B works due to Verma and Moroles’ authentic, lived-in performances. Their rapport is delightful. Their delivery spot-on. Both are relatively unknown (Moroles is perhaps best known for her recurring role on Teen Wolf) but Plan B should launch them both into much bigger careers. Plan B is well worth the trip.
Director: Natalie Morales
Writer: Prathi Srinivasan and Joshua Levy
Starring: Kuhoo Verma, Victoria Moroles, Michael Provost, Myha’la Herrold, Jolly Abraham, Jay Chandrasekhar
Release Date: May 28, 2021 (Hulu)
Amy Amatangelo, the TV Gal®, is a Boston-based freelance writer and a member of the Television Critics Association. She wasn’t allowed to watch much TV as a child and now her parents have to live with this as her career. You can follow her on Twitter (@AmyTVGal).