“Plan B,” directed by Natalie Morales, is ridiculously funny. Best friends Sunny (Kuhoo Verma, “The Big Sick”) and Lupe (Victoria Moroles, “Teen Wolf”) road trip across South Dakota for a Plan B pill after an awkward encounter at Sunny’s party. On the way, the normally straight-laced best friends get lost, steal, party, take numerous illegal substances, hook up with strangers, confess secrets and, ultimately, get spotted by the “Indian mafia” (the benchmark of any well-spent night). Produced and distributed by Hulu, the movie is unique for many reasons: the phenomenal Indian-American and Mexican-American representation, the controversial subject matter and the exquisite filmography. “Plan B” shines not just due to its premise, but because of the quiet, heart-wrenchingly gorgeous moments between the major plot points as well.
It’s important to consider the wave of movies dubbed a “female Superbad” in the last few years — coming-of-age teen movies with best friends who confront the regular atrocities of teenage life with candid humor. “Blockers,” “Booksmart” and now, “Plan B.” Some of the most entertaining films I’ve seen, these movies are created by showbiz veterans such as Kay Cannon, Olivia Wilde and now, Natalie Morales. All are love letters to a candid teenage experience — not one of romanticized ideals or sexual fantasies but rather adolescence in its awkward, painful entirety. What does “Plan B” bring to the table, one may ask?
Sometimes, it’s easy to shrug off hollow representation on-screen. Just like in real life, people with marginalized identities are not thought of as just characters in movies or TV. When creating representation, we make something else entirely: the manifestation of the mean of our cultural worries, something that no plausible human could ever be. It’s difficult not to roll my eyes when I see even more Indian characters defined by their exaggerated accent. But once in a blue moon, marginalized people are allowed to just be people.
I went into “Plan B” expecting to see another ignorant approximation of an Indian-American girl (or in the creator’s eyes, a socially inept robot trying to get into med school). In the opening sequence, there’s a shot of Sunny flipping through her biology textbook on her bed getting ready for school, seemingly studying the pages. My heart sank as I watched her flip further, imagining the effortlessly perfect score she was going to bag on her upcoming test until she stopped on a page depicting genitalia. Confused, I snapped back to attention. Suddenly, Sunny starts masturbating. A little confused, and very much trying not to laugh, I kept watching. From there, the movie only gets bolder: Sunny loses her virginity, a penis piercing is yanked out and Lupe hooks up with a stranger. The confrontation of sexual stereotypes is at the heart of “Plan B” — especially about women of color, who are often portrayed in objectifying and hackneyed ways. Quite simply, “Plan B” is the most honest portrayal of teen sexuality I’ve seen. Instead of being the deeply distorted projection many writers believe Indian-Americans to be, Sunny just gets to be a person with a sex drive.
However, the characters don’t exist independent of their respective cultures; rather, the cultural representation found in “Plan B” is much closer to reality than the existing clichéd representation used to define Indian-Americans. While getting ready, Sunny’s mother brushes coconut oil through Sunny’s long, thick, slightly frizzy hair; an unnecessary explanation of the practice isn’t given to appease unaware viewers. At one point, when harassed by a group of men at a gas station about her vagina, who call it a taco (believing her to be Mexican), she responds, “I’m South Asian, so that metaphor doesn’t track”, telling them to say “rotis, or naan, or something.” Despite being a deeply disturbing scene, Verma delivers the line hilariously; the burden of being over-sexualized while ignorant comments are made about one’s body is always present for people of color. “Plan B” is part of a new wave of representation — one that depicts realities in a way that doesn’t feel voyeuristic or pandering to the white gaze. Despite its larger-than-life humor, “Plan B” shows the characters’ lives, cultures and struggles honestly.
Apart from the genuine representation, “Plan B” excels in many other areas, including the acting. Verma’s and Moroles’s slice-of-life performances as Sunny and Lupe are unforgettable; their friendship felt deeply genuine and eerily similar to the bonds I’ve formed with peers in high school. Additionally, the romantic relationships are written beautifully (a certified bitter Scrooge, I found the diner scene of Sunny and Hunter, her love interest, extremely adorable). The queer representation is some of the first I’ve seen in teen movies that doesn’t feel distinctly prying or othering; ultimately, the chemistry is off the charts, all-around.
“Plan B” can only be described by contradictions. The realistic representation is ever-present, but the humor is over-the-top in a good way. I couldn’t stop laughing the entire movie (especially with Verma’s and Moroles’ talent for deadpan delivery). The story manages to remain funny while oscillating perfectly between ridiculous and heartfelt. While in a couple of places, the script felt a little odd (like when Sunny was unable to find a pharmacist in the entire state of South Dakota who would give her the Plan B pill, or how Lupe didn’t get as much screen time as I’d hoped), the quiet moments of love between Sunny and Lupe made my heart ache. If the latest wave of best-friend teen comedies were hugs (and trust me, they are), “Blockers” would be the excited, screaming hug you give to a friend at prom, jumping despite the jewelry and layers of heavy fabric; “Booksmart” would be the parting hug between you and your best friend during graduation, where you try not to cry and laugh at the same time; and “Plan B” would be the silent hug you give your friend in a parked car after they tell you something that makes your heart hurt, after both of you shiver in the cold and bare your secrets. All of these movies are worth watching. “Plan B” adds some phenomenal representation to the genre (among other things), furthering a conversation where people can talk about sex and relationships in an intersectional way. It was softer and more caring, shining a light on the reproductive restrictions that people face, especially in conservative areas.
Overall, “Plan B” wasn’t what I wanted it to be. It was better. It’s a damn good feeling to know such a phenomenal movie was made for me and my friends. I can’t stop thinking about how Sunny and I have the same hair.
Daily Arts writer Meera Kumar can be reached at email@example.com.