I have to admit, I gave a little cheer when the penis showed up in Plan B. It’s not exactly a nice specimen — it’s pierced, poor thing, and when we see it, it’s not exactly full of pep. (The dong does not have star quality.) But I was thrilled to meet it nonetheless because it’s the only sexual characteristic shown nude in director Natalie Morales’s new teen sex comedy on Hulu. In that one dick shot, she reverses the genre’s usual double standard, which expects the girls to take their tops off while the boys’ shorts stay on.
I certainly don’t mean to say that Plan B is prudish or sex negative about the ladies. It starts out with a brisk bit of masturbation (our heroine has the relevant page in her anatomy textbook already bookmarked) and gets only more frank from there. It assumes young women have sexual agency, and it allows them plenty of action along variously fulfilling vectors. Yet despite — or because of — its candor, the film is careful not to traffic in titillation. Everyone is beautiful, everyone is young, but this movie is made for the people in it, rather than appealing to some creepy, objectifying gaze.
Star-in-the-making Kuhoo Verma plays Sunny, a bundle of midwestern high-school yearning just starting to sweat the PSAT. She aches for the jock-nerd Hunter (Michael Provost); she longs for a little breathing room from her controlling mother, Rosie (Jolly Abraham); and she dreams of a break from her much-loathed virginity. Her best friend, the experienced Lupe (Victoria Moroles), has her own troubles, including a pastor father who can understand neither her punk vibes nor her latest, rather elusive romantic relationship. Whatever her secrets, Lupe stands firmly in Sunny’s corner, so they hatch a plan. With Rosie out of town, they throw a party (even their casually racist classmates are allowed in), invite the crushworthy boy, and mix up a terrifying cocktail called the Skullfuck. In its sway, Sunny experiences the twin highs of empowerment and mixed liquors. “I feel so stimulated!” she shouts at Lupe as the music thumps. “Is this what white privilege feels like?”
In short order, Sunny has her first sexual encounter, falls asleep at her own rager, discovers that things may have gone awry in the condom department, and panics. Lupe reminds her that they can get the Plan B pill, and whoosh, we’re away on a picaresque adventure through the highways and byways of South Dakota hunting for that pill. There’s a special glide to road movies, and Morales finds it quickly, knowing when to linger in the car for radio sing-alongs (Christian trap? Turn it up) and when the journey needs events to accelerate.
Verma just happens to be a gifted vocalist (if you went to the Downtown Live festival in New York, you might have heard her singing rhapsodic jazz), so when she and Moroles riff with each other in the car, you hear startlingly impressive, virtuosic notes. As performers, too, their harmony is the home chord of Plan B — Verma plays Sunny’s freak-outs a little broadly, while Moroles’s cracklier humor deliberately underplays, and this bass-note–top-note combination makes all their scenes feel orchestrated and rich. The actors perfectly create a deep affection between them, an ease that undergirds every scene. Along their trip, they both meet up with their love objects, and the movie lets them have dreamy, perfect exchanges with them, in which everything is understood and forgiven and desirable at once. Yet there’s no question the film’s real prize is the silver string connecting Sunny and Lupe.
The up-all-night road-trip rhythm keeps things feeling light and a little stoned even though the hazards are real. The first dragon they confront on their quest is a smiling horror, the pro-life pharmacist who invokes the “conscience clause” and turns them away. Other men are other monsters: The penis belongs to a drug dealer who may have a Plan B somewhere in his stash but wants them to pay him with a blow job. In another sequence, two scary jerks harass the girls in a dark parking lot, and only Joshua Levy and Prathiksha Srinivasan’s script rescues them, throwing a gas-station attendant ex machina at them at a crucial moment. (When I think about the similar way Morales handles these two scenes — the dick in the park and the two dicks in the parking lot — I realize she’s letting the camera linger on the ugliness deliberately, so we can register first the danger, then the humiliating flaccidity of male menace.)
In fact, the girls save each other (and are saved) again and again on their drive to Rapid City as they try to reach the shining Planned Parenthood on a hill. But focusing on the means of rescue tends to take our eye off the real problem: Why are they in crisis to begin with? Why are two teenagers surrounded by so much danger? The point of Morales, Srinivasan, and Levy’s Plan B is that society’s Plan A should be a world where this sort of desperate, pedal-to-the-metal quest isn’t necessary. It’s telling that one of the best scenes in the movie takes place in a pro-abstinence sex-ed class (taught by an apoplectic Rachel Dratch). After watching a video in which a woman’s virginity is compared to a car — her groom is horrified when he finds out her car is “used” — the kids fight back. Hunter volleys a joke, Sunny smashes it overhand. But it’s not just our heroes who see through the adult nonsense; it’s the entire class. The princess, the brain, the criminal, the stoner — every type of high-school teen overcomes their differences to mock their teacher and to put this anti-sex, pro-ignorance garbage in the bin. Plan B includes other scenes that borrow horror-film motifs, including a hilarious slog through a muddy field that could come from a zombie movie. But it’s in that bright and sunny classroom where the real horror has to be defeated. The kids win.