Recent Hollywood offerings remind us that any stupid thing guys can do, girls can do just as stupidly, from the “Hangover”-esque “Girls Trip” to the “American Pie” update “Blockers.” The latest offering in this subgenre is “Never Goin’ Back” (on Amazon Prime), the answer to stoner comedies such as “Pineapple Express” and other entries from the Rogen-Franco oeuvre.
If this calling card from writer-director Augustine Frizzell had been a mainstream film, it’d be too thin. But with its do-it-yourself aesthetic, it’s admirable, and it sometimes hints that it will exceed its modest ambitions.
Texas high school dropouts Angela (Maia Mitchell) and Jessie (Camila Morrone) are what Beavis and Butthead would be if they were hot girls and slightly more intelligent. Their aims don’t go much beyond paying next month’s rent until Angela gets the notion to travel to Galveston to celebrate Jessie’s 17th birthday. Like “Ghost World’s” Enid and Becky with fewer brain cells, Angela and Jessie are self-centered but kind of endearing in the way they want to reach the beach but get sidetracked by some things that aren’t their fault and many things that are.
Mitchell especially seems to be having fun making the movie – she almost breaks character with regular outsized grins — and both actresses will have careers ahead of them thanks to their looks and basic competence in front of the camera. A parallel trio of dimwit guys is watchable too. As Brandon, Kyle Mooney nails a scene where he tries to negotiate sexual favors from the girls in exchange for letting them rob the sandwich shop he works at. Once it appears he has succeeded, he gets completely and humorously flustered.
“Never Goin’ Back” barely maintains a “What will happen next?” vibe, although in the end we’re talking about pot brownies, a party at some dude’s grandma’s house, and a sandwich-shop stick-up that has no chance of succeeding.
In the first bit of hijinks, the girls’ house gets robbed – for some reason — by a friend of their two male roommates. When they call the police, Angela and Jessie themselves end up in jail for the drugs in their room. One of the officers is a Seth Rogen knockoff, complete with the “Superbad” facial hair, going off on a tangent about sexual orientation that’s structured like a gag but falls flat.
After the girls spend two days in jail, Frizzell starts to draw out what’s possibly the most extended poop joke ever: Jessie is unable to use the toilet without privacy, and she waits too long like Kramer in that one “Seinfeld” episode. She rushes to the bathroom when they get home, but there’s no toilet paper and the water is shut off because they didn’t pay the bill. Whether and when Jessie will poop becomes the film’s most gripping through-line. (And the payoff is decent.)
With some tasty needle drops from Sarah Jaffe that had me looking up songs, “Never Goin’ Back” occasionally behaves like a better movie than it is, making me think of things like “Ghost World” and “American Graffiti” even if the film isn’t in that class. In a late sequence, Angela and Jessie – sticky with sweat and beer from their crazy day – run through their dark, defeated hometown as the soundtrack brings up those feelings of endless possibilities open to 17-year-olds.
But ultimately, it’s a wannabe stoner comedy that you’ll quickly forget. “Never Goin’ Back” doesn’t settle into a tone; it’s not particularly funny or sweet or scary or profound. It’s vaguely mean-spirited, but not subversive or offensive. It might’ve felt more substantial with regular-looking girls, but then it also would’ve needed a deeper script. Still, there are hints that we’ll see good stuff from Frizzell down the road – probably as a director more so than a writer — and some of the actors.