Plan B (2021)

I’ve been a huge fan of Natalie Morales for a very, very long time. In fact, I just got the Middleman DVD box set for Christmas and am doling out episodes to myself at a slow rewatch pace like a post-holiday Advent calendar, after my last rewatch of gray market .avi files that are still watermarked with the ABC Family branding. I heard about the then-unfilmed Plan B, Morales’s directorial debut, sometime back and then don’t remember ever hearing anything else about it until it premiered on Hulu. There’s a distinct style to her comedic delivery and timing that I have always loved, and it’s present in her other non-Wendy Watson roles with which we have been graced over the years; it’s also present here, in an esoteric spiritual way and in the way that her voice comes through so clearly in the cadence of her characters’ dialogue. 

Lupe (Victoria Moroles) and Sunny (Kuhoo Verma) are best friends. Both have single parents: Sunny is an only child being raised by her mother, Rosie (Jolly Abraham), a driven real estate agent with high expectations for Sunny’s academic performance; Lupe has younger brothers, and her mother passed away some time ago, pushing her minister father (Jacob Vargas) towards overprotection, against which she bristles. Sunny’s crushing on Hunter (Michael Provost), a sensitive boy whose signature pairing of cardigan and P.E. uniform revs her engine, and she’s egged on by the ostensibly more sexually experienced Lupe. When Rosie leaves for an out-of-state realty conference, Lupe convinces Sunny to throw a house party in order to spend time with Hunter, but when he leaves with another girl, Sunny ends up having (brief and unsatisfying) sex with a different classmate, the zealously Christian dweeb Kyle (Mason Cook). 

The next morning, she realizes that despite her best efforts to use protection, she may be amongst the minute percentage for whom condoms are ineffective. This kicks off a series of events in which the girls try to obtain the titular pharmaceutical, during the course of which they run afoul of a pharmacist (Jay Chandrasekhar) who invokes the state’s laws allowing for those of his profession to withhold medication based on “moral” objections, a gas station attendant (Edi Patterson, of The Righteous Gemstones) with her own issues, and a supposedly teenaged drug dealer (the 31-year-old Moses Storm) whose apparent age is the result of never drinking water. En route to the closest Planned Parenthood, a several-hour car ride that turns into an overnight coming-of-age road comedy, Sunny has an unexpected encounter with Hunter, and Lupe finally meets her oft-mentioned off screen love interest, Logan, for the first time in person; both we and Sunny learn that Logan (Myha’la Herrold) is actually a woman. With the ticking clock to get both the Plan B pill before it starts to lose its efficacy, and for the girls to get home before Sunny’s mom gets back from her conference, one never forgets that stakes, regardless of how many peals of laughter are experienced between delays. 

There’s a great scene early on in which we get a one-scene performance from Rachel Dratch as Ms. Flaucher, the characters’ sex ed teacher. Just like I did, they’re getting an abstinence-only curriculum in which premarital sex is given an elaborate metaphor. You know the one; in his late-2019 stand-up special, Jaboukie Young-White talked about his Catholic upbringing in which the sinfulness of the Marital Act outside of the Marriage Bed was demonstrated by having everyone spit in a cup and challenging the last person to drink it. My school also had the one with the Scotch tape, in which once you put it on someone’s shirt, then someone else’s, then a third person’s, the tape lost adhesiveness, to show how we could never really properly bond to our future spouses if we allowed ourselves to be sullied by physical encounters in which loose threads were exchanged, if you follow. The September 2019 installment of Into the Dark, entitled Pure, took place at a purity retreat; during the scene in which the event’s spiritual leader asked for a piece of gum and started chewing it, I told my then-roommate that this was about to become a metaphor for how “gross” and “used” people were, and he couldn’t believe that this prediction came true. At least I am too old to have been subjected to Christian trap music, which plays a role here in Plan B

On the VHS tape (ha!) shown to Lupe and Sunny’s class, a woman’s virginity (and it’s specifically a woman’s in this case, which is discussed) is presented as a much-abused car, which her husband refuses to ride in. There’s something essential about comedy that requires it to be knowing, and that’s what elevates Plan B. It’s not just funny, it’s funny in a very intimate way, which matches the subject matter, appropriately interspersed with emotional reminders of the potency of teenage emotion. Sometimes, no matter how adult you think you are and attempt to take care of your problems, you’re still a child and you need an adult, and it’s ok to acknowledge that. That emotional honesty plays out in its demonstration of young love, and how it can be sweet and still a little embarrassing. And it does it all with humor that verges-upon-but-does-not-quite-become gross-out comedy, vignetted character portraits of outlandish but somehow instantly familiar personalities, and the warmth of basking in the effortless conversational volley between two best friends who know each other better than anyone else in the world. There are a few missteps; I personally can’t stand a late-film friendship-threatening argument, and although this one is blissfully short and quickly reversed, that really underscores how unnecessary it is. But I’m not here to get bogged down in those details, and neither should you be. This one’s a lot of fun.

-Mark “Boomer” Redmond

Hurricane Bianca (2016)

EPSON MFP image

three star

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It’s honestly not at all fair for me to make this comparison, since Bianca Del Rio (the drag persona of local boy-made-good Roy Haylock) was already a success long before she appeared on the show, but the campy drag queen comedy Hurricane Bianca feels like a sketch from RuPaul’s Drag Race stretched to a feature length film. The comedy sketches have never been the highlight of that show, which is more about fashion artistry & reality show competition than drag-themed SNL skits, but every now & then the right performer can make them worthwhile. Bianca Del Rio was already a fully developed talent by the time she arrived at (and won) Drag Race, so selling the comedy in the show’s aggressively corny bits was second nature to her. She actually might be the most over-qualified queen in the history of the show to helm a feature length broad comedy like Hurricane Bianca, which is even below such prestige-free ventures as SNL‘s Superstar & It’s Pat! movies in terms of production quality. Cameos & bit roles from Drag Race standouts like Willam, Alyssa Edwards, and RuPaul himself (out of drag, as a weatherman) only reinforce the film’s general expanded Drag Race sketch vibe and your enjoyment in (and patience with) Hurricane Bianca might depend largely on how much fun you have with that aspect of the show.

Presented as a storybook fairy tale (or, in the film’s terms, the tale of a fairy), Hurricane Bianca stars Haylock as a queer high school teacher from NYC who’s forced to find work in rural Texas to make do. Headed by an unusually hateful Rachel Dratch (applying her trademark SNL-style mugging to her role as a bigoted bully), the group of Conservative Texans this hopeless nerd science teacher/failed stand-up comedian interlopes reject him outright as a pariah (“There’s something queer about him. I just can’t put my finger on it.”) and our put-upon hero once again finds himself jobless. Then, in a plot straight out of an aborted Adam Sandler screenplay, the teacher gets re-hired at the same school as a woman, adopting his meant-to-be Bianca Del Rio persona almost 2/3rds into the runtime. Del Rio presents a dichotomy where drag equals confidence and the teacher transforms from a timid nerd to an instant queen bitch. Her Don Rickles insult-clown routine destroys the false superiority of Dratch’s evil bigot antagonist and the teen bullies who do such delightful things as take “Smear the queer” selfies with the one openly gay student in their school, whom they abuse daily. Strangely mirroring the third act of The Dressmaker, Hurricane Bianca gradually transforms into an absurd revenge fantasy in which drag queens have their day and the evil Texan Christians are put in their place by such cartoonish weapons as Bugs Bunny gags & surprise swarms of bees.

It’s difficult to say if Hurricane Bianca works as a starmaker for Del Rio, since it is such a for-fans-only proposition. The film is so cartoonishly silly & unapologetically queer that it’s bound to appeal to a very limited subset of camp-minded dorks, likely the exact crowd who would have followed Bianca’s career closely enough to hear about this very minor release in the first place. It very much feels like a SNL movie or a WWE Studios production in that way and, as a trash-gobbling dork myself, I would love nothing more than for Drag Race as a brand to keep making small scale movies that appeal only to its own insular audience (starting with Alyssa Edwards’s Ambrosia Salad character from this film, preferably). Within that limited scope framework, Hurricane Bianca is a resounding success. It provides Del Rio with a larger platform for her insult comedy, gives Haylock an excuse to appear out of drag to hopefully expand his familiarity, and actually has a surprisingly political bent to it between its sillier moments, especially in the way it spoofs the bigotry of Texan Christianity & attempts to provide hope for queer high school students who are continually bullied by their peers. I can’t say that if you aren’t already on board with Del Rio that you will be surprised & won over by what Hurricane Bianca provides. If you’re already a fan & you don’t often find yourself fast-forwarding through the sketch comedy bits on RuPaul’s Drag Race, however, you’ll likely have a gay ol’ time.

-Brandon Ledet