‘Plan B’ is summer’s favorite teen comedy

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By Jake Coyle | Associated Press

A painfully awkward sexual encounter. An improvised road trip. A proven friendship. No, the outline of Natalie Morales’ “Plan B” is not revolutionary. It’s the tried-and-true setting of high school comedy. But teen comedies, almost as a rule, are made by their protagonists. And with Kuhoo Verma and Victoria Moroles, “Plan B” is a big winner.

Morales’ film seems destined to be compared to Olivia Wilde’s “Booksmart,” which hit theaters almost exactly two years ago. Both are directed with a seasoned filmmaker’s sense of timing by actors turned first-time directors. (Morales has been a familiar face in film and television for 15 years.) The two feature a pair of groundbreaking performances. And both bring a funny, feminist twist to a traditionally boyish and often crude genre of film.

But it surprised me watching “Plan B” how much of its own thing it is. It has a comedic pace and perspective all its own. And while most teen comedies have opted for packed theaters, “Plan B” — more indie, more thoroughly R-rated — is streaming-only. (It debuts Friday on Hulu.) So it’s fitting that the characters of “Plan B” give us a new phrase in the streaming lexicon that can sit alongside “Netflix and chill”: “Disney-plus and thrust”.

Verma, who had a small role in “The Big Sick,” plays Sunny, the high-achieving, low-self-esteem daughter of demanding Native American parents. Her best friend Lupe (Moroles, from MTV’s “Teen Wolf” and Disney Channel’s “Liv and Maddie”) is more self-possessed than most adults. But her brash style and two-tone hair are regularly ridiculed by her more conservative father. Sunny and Lupe are strangers in a small town in South Dakota, where their ethnicities are only vaguely understood. Most of the time they don’t care. When a boy, intending to pay a compliment, tells “Verma” that she “has got that whole Princess Jasmine thing,” she shyly notes that it’s the wrong ethnic group, but “it’s is sort of the closest princess we’ve got so I’ll take this.”

The quick-witted script, by Prathi Srinivasan and Joshua Levy, is the best of the film’s first half, largely taking place around high school and, as the laws of the genre dictate, at a party thrown by Sunny when her parents are away. If you think you’ve seen enough Sex Ed scenes by now, you’ll want to make an exception for one with Rachel Dratch as a teacher in over her head, helpless as her students take a car metaphor for the virginity and run with it. The party scene also has its tropes (poorly concocted punch) and unique touches. Sunny, feeling rejected by her crush (played by Michael Provost), finds herself in the bathroom instead with Kyle (Mason Cook), a sincere child who is part magic and part Jesus – and to Sunny about the person South Dakota’s most regrettable for losing her virginity to.

The next morning, panic sets in and Sunny needs a morning after pill. Yet when Lupe (speaking on behalf of the over-shamed Sunny) asks the pharmacist (Jay Chandrasekhar, the comedic actor-director of “Super Troopers”), he refuses based on the state’s “conscience clause”, which gives pharmacists a right of refusal based on religious beliefs.

Here, “Plan B” does not become sober, far from it. There are still scenes to come involving a drug dealer’s pierced penis, an accidental dose of speed, and a stolen car. But the film’s inherent setup is, like the comic equivalent of “Never Rarely Sometimes Always,” a poignant commentary on the barriers to abortion. Sunny and Lupe drive Sunny’s mother’s Honda minivan to a Planned Parenthood in Rapid City, a three-hour trip that becomes longer and more surreal than most Dakota trips. Here, “Plan B” occasionally drifts, but all of their adventures serve as a reminder of why typical teen comedy conquests are more complicated for young women.

But “Plan B” never becomes didactic. Pointed as the “Plan B” message, there’s no substitute for simply letting these two characters — traditionally low-playing at best in high school comedies — be themselves. They are some of the most authentic 17-year-olds recently seen on film, something we most certainly owe to two up-and-coming stars in Verma and Moroles. Verma, is remarkably natural and moving, while the so, so good Moroles struts through the film like a creature in his own right. She’ll even convince you that Christian trap music can rock.


“Plan B”

3 out of 4 stars

Unclassified (but contains language and sexual material that would suggest an R rating)

Operating time: 108 minutes

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