Democracy Dies in Darkness

Movies | Review

Most stoner comedies are full of gender and class cliches. This one has a fresh spin.

August 8, 2018 at 1:58 PM

Maia Mitchell, left, and Camila Morrone in “Never Goin’ Back.” (Clay Grier/A24)

Rating: 2.5 stars

At one point in “Never Goin’ Back,” a pair of 16-year-old waitresses sit in the dimly lit back office of a small-town Texas diner, high out of their minds on edibles. After staring at a picture of a tropical paradise on their boss’s computer screen, one of them turns to the other and says, slurring her words, “What’s the deal with screen savers like that in depressing places like this?”

A similar question could be asked of the movie’s buoyant stars, Maia Mitchell and Camila Morrone, who play high school dropouts Angela and Jessie, who long to escape their humid, desolate hometown. Although these best friends do their best to scrape together enough money to pay for rent and a beach vacation, a string of drug-fueled detours — some of their own making, others the fault of Jessie’s dealer brother Dustin (Joel Allen) — land them at a wild party, in a burger joint’s supply closet and even behind bars. Everywhere but the beach.

Director Augustine Frizzell has drawn from her own wayward youth to write “Never Goin’ Back,” which puts a fresh spin on stoner-comedy tropes. These teenage girls can be just as crass as their counterparts Harold and Kumar. They spew dirty jokes, most of which — for once! — occur at the expense of male characters, such as their pervy roommate (Kyle Mooney). And although financial struggles don’t bog down the lighthearted tone, they remind viewers that well-off teenagers aren’t the only ones who deserve to let loose on screen.

Maia Mitchell, left, and Camila Morrone play teenage waitresses looking to escape their Texas hometown in “Never Goin’ Back.” (Clay Grier/A24)

Because of its girls-gone-bad premise, which Frizzell clings to for dear life, “Never Goin’ Back” has been compared to “Spring Breakers” (also from indie studio A24). There are few notable plot points here: a good portion of the meandering movie, which relies heavily on bodily-fluid-centric humor, follows Angela and Jessie on a quest to launder their work uniforms. At times, it seems as though there is no point to the lowbrow movie at all.

The supporting characters’ shenanigans eventually wear thin, save for a hilarious attempted robbery in which Dustin believes that wearing sheer pantyhose as a mask will conceal his identity. But Angela and Jessie’s antics never get old. “Never Goin’ Back” owes much of its watchability to the actresses’ natural chemistry. Together, they paint a portrait of adolescent friendship so vibrant that it makes up for much of the movie’s structural flaws.

Each time Angela tries to rope Jessie into another one of her harebrained schemes, you root for Jessie to go along with it, even though it will inevitably fail. (Past attempts to get out of work include hitting each other with bricks to fake a car accident, and deliberately getting bitten by bugs to fake chickenpox.) To viewers, it won’t matter where the girls are trying to end up. You’re just happy to witness their unwavering determination to get there.

R. At Landmark’s E Street Cinema. Contains crude sexual material and coarse language throughout, drug use and brief nudity, all involving teens. 86 minutes.

Sonia Rao is a pop culture reporter. She attended Boston University and wrote for the Boston Globe before coming to The Post as a Style intern in 2017. She officially joined the features department in 2019.

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