NEVER GOIN’ BACK Review: The Blitzed Out Lives Of High School Dropouts

Augustine Frizzell’s middling stoner comedy still has a lot to love.

It is starting to become something of a cliché to take traditionally male-centric premises and subvert them by placing women in the lead roles, but it often still works if the talent involved can sell that subversion on its own terms rather than as a genderswapped worship of ground that men have already trodden upon. Augustine Frizzell seems to want to pull this sort of trick with the Apatow stoner comedy, taking roles that a young Rogen, Franco, or Hill might have once filled and placing a pair of comically charming young women in their place. The result, honestly, is a mixed bag, but not for a lack of enthusiasm. Far from it, Never Goin’ Back is a breezy eighty-six minutes of absurd hijinks, but it is failed by a lackluster script that doesn’t quite have the jokes on the page.

Angela (Maia Mitchell) and Jessie (Camila Morrone) are a couple of high school dropouts renting a house with Jessie’s brother while working as food servers at a family diner. With Jessie’s seventeenth birthday coming up, Angela spends their rent money to buy a vacation to a Galveston beach, relying on the fact that they will be able to work enough shifts to pay rent before they leave at the end of the week. However, as situations escalate from Jessie’s brother’s misguided attempts to get into drug dealing, the girls find themselves wrapped up in circumstances that threaten their ability to make that much-needed dough, though their own tendencies to zonk out at the earliest opportunity for irresponsibility trips them up just as often.

The subversive track to Frizzell’s film is that Angela and Jessie are just as adolescently reckless as their male counterparts, but they suffer consequences that Jessie’s brother Dustin (Joel Allen) and his friends don’t, because boys will be boys and are therefore free from suspicion or ramifications for their misdeeds. This is territory ripe for satire and commentary, but Never Goin’ Back never really capitalizes upon it, treating it as a background element that informs Angela and Jessie’s journey without exploring it beyond a passing frustration. Instead, as with most stoner comedies, the focus rests with Angela and Jessie as victims of their shenanigans which propel them to rock bottom before that very inanity turns out to be what saves them in the end.

And to that end, Never Goin’ Back skates by just as often as it succeeds at provoking a laugh. Mitchell and Morrone do an excellent job of inhabiting the lackadaisical mentality of BFFs living paycheck to paycheck and doing drugs as their primary recreational means, but Frizzell’s screenplay is severely lacking in jokes even as it places its protagonists in increasingly surreal situations. A scene where the girls are high on edibles plays like gangbusters (and is clearly informed by personal experience), and a running gag about holding in a shit pays off in massive dividends, but there are also scenes of extended argument between the girls and Dustin’s cohorts that don’t quite land, despite the obvious antagonistic chemistry between the players. It always feels like there’s potential for hilarity to break out at any minute, but it never quite hits the right stride to do so consistently.

Even so, Never Goin’ Back is an entirely serviceable comedy that hits enough of the right notes to justify its existence. It’s not exactly a classic in its own right, but it’s a solid career springboard for Frizzell that I’m certainly interested to see what she does next. My review may not be as glowing as Jacob’s – probably because I’m not as much of a fan of producer David Lowery’s touch – but if this is what distributor A24 thinks of as a late-summer popcorn flick, I’m down for similar offerings every year.