This is the second movie I’ve watched that pairs a teenage road-trip comedy with reproductive health, and I have mixed feelings. These things really shouldn’t go together like peanut butter and jelly or cardboard boxes and cats. Emergency contraception and abortion should be easily and locally available to all the teens (and adults) who need them; no tenacious trekking required. But, of course, that’s not the case for a lot of people in the United States right now, and Plan B does a great job of using all the goofy, humorous tropes of road trip comedy to lay bare the painful truth about the desperate measures required to access basic reproductive health care.
Sunny (Kuhoo Verma), an Indian-American teen living in South Dakota with her strict mother, feels like her social and sexual status are the direct inverse of her academic status. Will she ace the PSATs? Likely. But will she ever get to smash with Hunter (Michael Provost), the hottie with the floppy hair who wears a cardigan to PE like a “sexy librarian”? Far less likely. Rebellious Lupe (Victoria Moroles) is Sunny’s best friend and perfectly paired odd-couple opposite. Where Sunny is all overalls, modest clothes, and hair braided by her mother, Lupe is tight clothing, vaping, taking pictures of her ass, and bleached hair and black lipstick that makes her pastor father say she looks “like a depressed skunk.” Lupe doesn’t mind that she’s thought of as promiscuous, and Sunny very much minds that she hasn’t even kissed someone.
Sunny laments the fact that Megan and Emma, two other students, are discussing reverse cowgirl in the locker room—which wasn’t the best for Emma, but she feels like it looked cool—while Sunny doesn’t even understand “horse fucking.” (Megan and Emma are the epitome of empty white girlness, and I would like to offer blessings on everyone involved in rendering their minor characters so perfectly.) Meanwhile, Lupe wants Sunny to find a way to invite Hunter over for some “Disney Plus and thrust.” (A line that makes me giggle-snort every time I think of it.)
Most of the teenagers are woefully undereducated when it comes to sex because of an abstinence-only curriculum and conservative community. They’re shown a video that uses the analogy of a car for a vagina, insisting that you shouldn’t let anyone else ride in your car until marriage because no one likes ripped upholstery. Sunny points out that a woman’s upholstery doesn’t rip, it just stretches. And Hunter asks why no one is concerned about the state of the man’s car, and if by taking the bus he’s just fucking everyone. All of which are very astute observations.
Anyway, what better thing for a bunch of horny, barely sex-literate teens than a giant unsupervised party with alcohol? Teens make such wise choices. When Megan’s party is suddenly cancelled on the same weekend that Sunny’s mom will be out of town at a realtors’ conference, Lupe sees an opportunity and announces that they’ll be hosting the party. Lupe and Sunny are far more familiar with sleepovers where they do thousand-piece puzzles than parties, but they rise to challenge, even creating a punch made out of lots of alcohol and cough syrup. Lupe has been texting with Logan, who is in a band, so therefore already very cool, and hopes this will be the time they actually get to meet in person, but it doesn’t happen, and she just ends up leaving more and more desperate voicemails as the night progresses. Sunny is hopeful that she’ll get to talk to Hunter, but he seems distracted by a very drunk Megan. So, in a fit of rebellion, Sunny lets down her hair, puts on makeup, turns a sweatshirt into a crop top, and (in my very favorite move) hacks her full coverage beige underwear into a thong. By the time she emerges, drunk and less clothed, Hunter is putting Megan in his truck and leaving the party. Feeling dejected and rejected, Sunny retreats to the bathroom where she runs into Kyle (Mason Cook), an awkward and very religious kid who does card tricks and is always trying to invite Lupe and Sunny to his Christian youth group—they’re even allowed to watch Harry Potter, he boasts. That timeworn mix of alcohol, depression, social pressure, desperation, and low self-esteem lead to the two of them having the most awkward sex of all time on the bathroom vanity, their only form of protection a novelty strawberry flavored condom that Kyle isn’t quite sure how to use. What could possibly go wrong? Please note, this situation is presented without any judgement, except for Sunny’s own self-judgement.
As you can imagine, this does not end well. The next morning, Sunny lets Lupe believe that it was in fact Hunter that she banged, because she’s way too embarrassed and worried about being judged to admit the truth. Then the condom just, plop, falls out of Sunny’s vagina while she’s peeing, causing much and very justified panic. They race to the drugstore where the Indian American pharmacist tells Sunny how much she looks like his daughter before cheerfully declining to sell them any Plan B. He peppily explains that the Conscience Clause allows him to decide if he’s morally uncomfortable selling Plan B to someone, and how much better he sleeps because of it. He thinks it’s just really, really great. Meanwhile, Kyle keeps calling Sunny to talk about his guilt and whether God will forgive them for what they did, while she’s more concerned with the actual concrete consequences of whether a 30-second mistake is going to change the course of her entire life.
I can’t believe in all these words I haven’t talked to you about the fantastic-ness of Sunny and Lupe. Separately they are both funny, kind, smart, and vulnerable characters that I dare you not to instantly fall in love with. They have a perfectly balanced kind of chemistry and the movie truly an ode to best friends and their unconditional support. I would happily watch Lupe and Sunny in any kind of movie at any time, but I especially enjoyed watching them work together in this one.
So what’s a girl—who doesn’t feel like she can ask her mother for help, and with a countdown clock ticking away in her uterus—to do? Take a road trip to the nearest Planned Parenthood, which is a few hours away. Of course, this straightforward plan will quickly be foiled. Sunny and Lupe get lost, have to resort to using a paper map (a very funny scene), end up at a sketchy gas station where a woman named Doris (Edi Patterson) gives them incoherent directions, saves them from skeevy men, and hooks them up with a drug dealer—who works out of a playground—because he might have some levonorgestrel, the active ingredient in Plan B. Sunny and Lupe will also experience narrow escapes, detours of their detours, close encounters with pierced penises, bowling alley concerts, unexpected romantic liaisons, stolen cars, a party with some very odd and very high strangers, epic amounts of mud, misunderstandings, fights, and reconciliations before finally reaching their destination, which still isn’t the end of their odyssey. The movie manages to feel incredibly familiar, while also being filled with small surprises. And it’s a funny thing how all the over-the-top humorous antics that feel almost too in-your-face are also such an effective way to concretely show the extent to which a Conscience Clause can negatively impact someone’s life. Take the moment when they meet the drug dealer, a scene at which I laughed, but also got teary considering the lengths to which Sunny and Lupe were willing to go in order to get a pill that could be Plan B or could be PCP when they COULD HAVE JUST GOTTEN IT DOWN THE FUCKING STREET AT THE LOCAL FUCKING PHARMACY IF NOT FOR THE FUCKING PATRIARCHY’S MISDIRECTED MORALIZING AND DESIRE TO CONTROL GIRLS’ AND WOMEN’S BODIES.
At one point there are two parallel scenes of conversations between couples that shows how much uncertainty and fear there is behind that teenage bravado. How much they hold back out of fear of not meeting some made-up expectations. But also how much generosity, compassion, and love people have to offer if we just give them the chance. These are quiet, tender introspective moments nestled quite perfectly inside the rush and chaos of the broader comedy. I don’t know how as a filmmaker you make that work, but writers Joshua Levy and Prathiksha Srinivasan and director Natalie Morales have managed it quite deftly.
The whole movie is a battle cry for better sex education and access to birth control and reproductive healthcare. I don’t want to spoil the end for you, but I will say that part of it is so utterly perfunctory, and it really drives home the ridiculousness of having to take an epic journey in order to do something so mundane, but also so vital, for your health. Plan B is also a really charming and funny story of the importance of friendship, of love in unexpected places, and of exactly how far compassion and respect can carry us. My conscience very much encourages your conscience to watch the heck out of this delightful movie.