“It’s Harold & Kumar meets Thirteen,” one can imagine the pitch for Augustine Frizzell’s Never Goin’ Back might have gone. At worst, this premise might scan as innocuous, at best, radical: a female re-imagining of that early ‘00s crude cult favorite, the stoner comedy. Women-centric renderings of male-dominated movie spaces are deeply in vogue: Girls Trip for reunions, Trainwreck for arrested adolescence, Ghostbusters for Ghostbusters. It was only a matter of time before Clerks and Dude Where’s My Car received their female due.
Frizzell’s film delivers on this promise crassly and dubiously, but then again, the promise was crass and dubious to begin with. The stoners here are Jessie (Camila Morrone) and Angela (Maia Mitchell), 16-year-old high school dropouts barely subsisting on the minimal weekly wages from the waitressing job they despise. At the film’s start, Angela impulsively booked a weeklong beachside getaway package as a surprise gift for Jessie’s birthday. And she used their rent money to buy it. Ergo, the best friends and Dallas-based roommates will have to work double shifts at the diner all week to afford it.
“…16-year-old high school dropouts barely subsisting on…the waitressing job they despise.”
Recklessness is a theme and running joke for the pair. They’re at a party surrounded by drugs but have to go to work in an hour; how will they resist the temptation? A cranky old man scolds their skimpy outfits in a grocery store; how can they walk away without ridiculing him in return? In sum: how will they ever moderate their mania and contempt just enough to make it through the workweek? Dude, where’s my prudence?
Jessie and Angela epitomize a stale cinematic brand of white girl rebel, one whose pastimes include cocaine, walking around in underwear, and the word “f**k.” Because of this, the movie rides on its two central performances by Instagram socialites Maia Mitchell and Cami Morrone, who, amidst the farce, manage to construct a friendship that reads as genuinely charming and true. To its credit, the movie refuses to punish the girls for their utter disdain toward everybody but each other. They may be lazy miscreants, but they’re not sinners, and like any good teenage best friend duo, they know where their loyalty lies.
“…we could always use more movies of the women-behaving-badly variety.”
You can expect the same defecation and drug humor that crud up comedies of this ilk. Of course, its vacuity is intentional, and maybe we could always use more movies of the women-behaving-badly variety. But there’s also a real danger in perpetuating this type of teenage girl; it propagates the idea that, for women, defiance is power, radicalism is freedom, and being really hot is often all you need to survive.
Never Goin’ Back (2018) Written and directed by Augustine Frizzell. Starring Maia Mitchell, Cami Morrone, and Kyle Mooney.