Never Goin’ Back
Teenage stoner comedy lets the ladies do the dirty work for a change
Never Goin' Back (2018)
Directed by Augustine Frizzell
Cast: Maia Mitchell, Camila Morrone
Whether you find Never Goin’ Back a hilarious tribute to the wild shenanigans of youth or a depressing wake-up call about the horrors of the Millennial Generation may depend largely on your age group. Allegedly inspired by the crazy teenage hijinks of first-time filmmaker Augustine Frizzell (granddaughter of singer/songwriter Lefty Frizzell, for what it’s worth), the film feels less like a thoughtfully constructed narrative and more like a sketchy anecdote related at a late-night party. One that feels far less funny in the sober light of day.
The gleefully self-absorbed comedy revolves around inseparable 17-year-old BFFs and high school dropouts Angela (Maia Mitchell from “The Fosters” and the Teen Beach Party movies) and Jessie (Camila Morrone from the recent Death Wish remake). Their so-called lives consist of drawing dicks on one another’s faces with Magic Markers, flipping off cranky old people and doing more than enough drugs to get through double shifts at the crummy family restaurant at which they both wage-slave. Occasionally, they make out with one another—not because they’re gay or a couple or anything, but because that’s just a thing young people do now. (Or so I gather.)
Desperate to break out of their impoverished, suburban Dallas rut, Angela shells out for a vacation rental on the beach in Galveston to celebrate Jessie’s 17th birthday. It’s all set to go down in one week’s time. While the gals bide their time and daydream of eating doughnuts on the beach, life (and their own general ineptitude) intrude. Angela and Jessie (in no particular order) get arrested, lose their rent money, have their water shut off, fail to wash their uniforms, party a lot, get stoned a lot, and basically do anything and everything to avoid actually going to work and earning money they need for their big vacation trip. Will their humble dreams of splashing in the surf come true or not?
Never Goin’ Back tries to emulate the deadpan humor of Office Space—right down to the slo-mo walking and ironic gangsta rap music. But Frizzell’s script is less about setting up jokes and more about watching characters joke with one another. It’s not the same thing. The parade of embarrassing stunts our heroines pull and the low-grade humiliations they subsequently endure is supposed to be the center ring attraction here. What few gags there are feel uninspired and overly familiar. Example: The girls finally do show up at work … but they just gobbled a bunch of brownies at a party … but they were pot brownies … and they didn’t know they were pot brownies … and now they’re super stoned. At work! Ha. Also, Jessie hasn’t pooped in three days. Double ha.
Angela and Jessie are perky and they talk an awful lot. They’ve certainly got youthful energy on their side. There’s probably something endearing about their close friendship. Mitchell and Moronne do manage to imbue their conjoined characters with the lived-in chemistry of besties. But mostly, they’re a couple of clingy codependent knuckleheads. Their failure-filled quest to earn a break from their non-working lives feels like a dumbed-down version of the existential madness of Martin Scorsese’s After Hours as enacted by Bill and Ted’s drug-addled little sisters. And the scary thing is Angela and Jessie are probably the smartest, least irritating characters in the film. Sadly, however, our heroines don’t even have the charisma of Lloyd and Harry from Dumb and Dumber. Or Beavis and Butt-Head, for that matter. Their dialogue and character traits are more or less interchangeable. And yet, the film would have us believe that everything is going to work out just fine for these gals. “Be awful, and life will reward you” seems to be the moral of this story.
The best defense that can be mounted for the film is this: If you’re not a teenage girl, it’s probably not aimed at you. Are you in the demographic that gets flipped off by these rude, crude partners in crime? Stay away. If, however, you’re a teenage girl and want to see a buddy stoner comedy starring the ladies for a change, then Never Goin’ Back fits the bill. The unfortunate thing is it’s hard to shake the lingering feeling that Frizzell had something deeper, more dramatic and far more transgressive in mind—but got lazy and settled for weed jokes and projectile vomiting instead.