By Deepa Lakshmin
Two girls, one pill — that’s the magic formula for Hulu’s Plan B, director Natalie Morales’s raunchy comedy starring Kuhoo Verma and Victoria Moroles. The premise is simple but sharp: two best friends, united in their clever banter and lack of high-school popularity, embark on a road trip across South Dakota after Sunny (Verma) has sex for the first time at the only party she’s ever thrown. There’s a hiccup with the condom, and soon she’s racing to find emergency contraception in a town where “conscience clause" legislation allows pharmacists to deny medication if it goes against their beliefs. With the clock ticking, Sunny and Lupe (Moroles) set out for the nearest Planned Parenthood; their journey, just like the party the night before, does not go as expected.
Verma, a talented singer and off-Broadway performer, got her film break in 2017’s Oscar-nominated rom-com The Big Sick, where she played one of many potential brides with whom Kumail Nanjiani’s family sets him up. “I think a lot of the previous roles that I had done were characters that were coming from a place of shame and coming from a place of deep self-deprecation and self-misunderstanding and not really standing their ground in what they believe in and what they think,” Verma told MTV News. With Sunny, it was “refreshing” that “the way she sees herself is with great respect and ownership. She knows what she wants.”
Plan B’s most gut-wrenching catharsis takes place in a Planned Parenthood parking lot hours away in Rapid City, South Dakota. It’s Sunny’s last shot at getting the pill she needs to live the life that she wants at her age. Her future feels out of her control. “It was tremendously healing for me,” she said about filming the emotional scene, which she says helped her “have this universal relief as a woman of color and just cry about the frustration of the kind of obstacles we have to go through in this country.”
“It’s like that moment I think a lot of people of color have in their lives, where you don’t really have the language all the time to reckon with why you feel different,” she continued. “Suddenly, everything kind of spills over. I hope people can watch it and feel a sense of familiarity and a sense of ‘Oh, I’m not the only one that’s going through this, and I’m not the only one that’s having a hard time in this body.’”
Plan B doesn’t gloss over the impacts of racism and sexism; you see how some of Sunny’s classmates stereotype her based on the color of her skin, and how sex is connected to male pleasure but not female pleasure. But the film comes at these issues through Sunny’s eyes. “She, as a person, doesn’t know much about [reproductive rights],” Verma said, “which is why she enters every situation with the best intentions and the best hope in mind and is really surprised and shocked by like, wait, what do you mean I don’t have access to things that I really need?”
Plan B may be a movie, but Sunny’s experience is all too real for many women across the country. In Texas, a “heartbeat bill” recently signed by Governor Greg Abbott can ban abortion six weeks in, when some women may not even realize they’re pregnant. Similar laws exist in Oklahoma, Idaho, and South Carolina. As for emergency contraception like the Plan B pill, nine states have some sort of restrictions in place, from excluding it from insurance plans to allowing pharmacists to turn away customers.
To prepare for the role, Verma returned to her childhood home in Lansdale, Pennsylvania, and cracked open the journals she filled in middle school and high school. She wanted to “[go] back to that mindset of being a misunderstood Indian girl,” because that’s Sunny — and countless other teenagers. It’s a mentality you can grow out of over time, but it’s difficult to forget that ache. “Do you remember what this was like, to be this desperate for sexual attention and not really knowing how to navigate that? And feeling like everyone else is seeing you as this nerd, and you yourself are like, I don’t see myself that way, I think I’m a cool bitch,” Verma said. “A lot of that was really resonating with me because I was simply like, oh wow, I have to do this for the middle-school version of myself. I have to do it for the younger Indian girls who don’t know how to navigate their sexualities.”
Plan B is far from the first coming-of-age tale about going on an adventure with your best friend, but even compared to 2020’s Unpregnant and Never Rarely Sometimes Always — which similarly tackle reproductive justice — Plan B holds its ground with wild and foul-mouthed scenes that leave the audience wondering what just happened. Sunny and Lupe are pushed so far outside their comfort zones they might as well be on another planet. “[The raunchiness is] something that I think we do not get an opportunity to showcase as people that are not cis white men,” she said. “These are two normal gals who are in the crassest situations ever.”
Yet the plot and dialogue aren’t obscene for the sake of obscenity. The absurd characters and interactions make you laugh, but they also make you think. From a hilariously awful abstinence-only sex-ed class to a refreshingly honest conversation with a crush, Plan B untangles sexuality from shame. Sex “shouldn’t carry any guilt or moral value to it,” Verma said. You watch Sunny and Lupe learn this lesson.
“In my [sex ed] classes... everything was directed to the boys as like, ‘I know that you’re uncontrollable, but these are some things you should know before you go on your rampage of sex,’” Verma said, reflecting on her own high-school experience. “In Plan B, it was very much anti-girl and anti-woman rather than pro-man, but I feel like in my health classes it was very pro-jock, pro-boy, which completely also disvalues LGBTQ+ issues and is completely ignoring probably more than 50 percent of the class’s needs.”
There’s no one to teach Sunny and Lupe how to be their most authentic selves, so they do their best to figure it out on their own, all while leaning on each other for support. It’s probably no surprise they hide their morning-after road trip from their parents. Sunny can’t fathom telling her mom, who’s rarely made space for mistakes in their home. “How revolutionary would it be if parents were to come from a place of concern for their [kids’] safety first and foremost before shaming them for a different moral standing?” Verma said.
“I have continually seen that stereotype of Indian parents and Indian elders being strict and backward and suffocating. Over the course of the movie, we realize that’s actually really not what Sunny’s mom is,” she continued. There comes a point where Sunny is pleasantly surprised by the types of conversations her mom is open to having; honesty helps move their relationship forward.
At first glance, this may not seem like a movie you’d want to watch with your parents, but all vulgarities aside, the family ties are just as important as Sunny and Lupe’s unconditional friendship. Lupe also carries her own secret, and if you peel back the movie’s layers of sex talk, the clear message is about learning to be yourself, shamelessly. There just happens to be some genitalia involved. “I did show pictures to my mom to prep her,” Verma revealed about telling her own mom about an outrageous scene involving an outdoor blowjob and one precariously placed piercing.
“I was like, ‘You will be seeing this. Are you OK with that?’ I thought she would be really disgusted, and she just started laughing out loud. It was the first of many moments where I was like, ‘Oh, duh, my mom is a person who thinks penises are funny just like I do. Nice.’”