Monday, May 31, 2021

Girls Trip: PLAN B

I miss movie theaters. It’d be a shame if only the biggest product gets placed there as the release schedule shows tentative signs of approaching normal sometime soon. When calling up a new streaming title, I still find myself hitting play thankful for the convenience of a new movie on my TV — it has certainly made these many months somewhat more bearable — but wishing I could see it large and loud with a crowd of like-minded strangers. Watching a movie like the Hulu debut Plan B — a small raunchy teen comedy that charmingly works out a tough social issue — might not at first seem the obvious place to make this point. One could easily see it playing like a sitcom special episode. But watching it build to big laughs and squirming sight gags that would surely have a crowd erupting, before defrosting its sweet sentimental core with gentle surprise turns, and then cutting to black with a laugh and a booming end credit song that’d guarantee you walk out grinning, made me yearn for the communal experience. I think it’d play even better with the rolling amusement that might overtake a crowd on the right wavelength.

The movie itself, the directorial debut of actress Natalie Morales from a screenplay by a couple iZombie scribes, is one of the better in a recent run of R-rated teen girl buddy comedies. That’s a welcome corrective to the years of boys being boys — though nothing close to full return to the freewheeling days of pre-code larks or screwball farces of Hollywood’s Golden Age that consistently let women run the show. The best of this new batch has to be 2018’s Never Goin’ Back, a dopey, easy-going, low-stakes, gross and silly stoner comedy about two teenage girls just trying to scrape up enough money to afford a better future. Also good, the transparent Superbad riff that is 2019’s Booksmart, with some huge laughs as its good girl protagonists try to cut loose on the last day of school. The least is probably last year’s HBO Max release Unpregnant, which stretches broadly to find its forced road trip wackiness — it’s for anyone who’d watch the brilliant drama Never Rarely Sometimes Always and ask where the laughs are. Still, Plan B, with its fine wide screen and loud poppy soundtrack, is in good company as it finds a crackling friendship chemistry between the anxious yearning of studious Sunny (Kuhoo Verma), who bristles under the expectations of her strict mother, and free-spirited Lupe (Victoria Moroles), who clearly uses her anything-goes exterior to cover up some roiling insecurities of her own. They throw a typical teen parents-are-gone house party at which Sunny has an ill-advised, and super fast, hookup with an unexpected partner. The next morning, she discovers she probably should go get a Plan B pill. Good thing she has such a good friend to help her.

Their mad dash through the byzantine rules and regulations around birth control — especially in small town South Dakota, where the movie sets its scene — involves the girls sneaking off on an impromptu trip to the nearest Planned Parenthood, over three hours away. If you’d think that along the way the girls would grow closer together, encounter a revolving door of eccentric supporting roles, have harrowing near-catastrophes that turn into larks at the last second, and learn deep truths about themselves, you’d be correct. There’s nothing surprising on that level. But the movie has a nice spirit to it, and takes its cues from the clever, but not too clever, banter between its leads. Verma and Moroles feel genuine in their bubbly teen angst, and comfort in the way their personalities fit together like the best high school friendships. They genuinely seem to like each other, talking about boys and music and parents, and even when misunderstandings or secrets burble up the conflict between them its structure requires, there’s never that false sense of irreparable separation. You just know they like each other too much to give up. The movie’s also refreshingly even-handed in its treatment of sex. It knows that it’s a source of anxiety for young people, no matter their interest, experience, or activity. But it also has the maturity to acknowledge the full complexity of the matter without acclaiming or denigrating—it’s positive and realistic, squirmingly awkward and generously frank. And it’s totally fair about consequences in a way that isn’t a scare tactic or a hand-waving. (That it also has a really gross scene with an intimate piercing painfully torn is a sign the movie isn’t entirely in control of its comedic impulses.) But above all, Morales ensures the movie has the slick shine of a studio comedy and a steady focus on the buzzing eventfulness of its plotting and the buoyant charms of its leads. I bet it’d play really well to a crowd.

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