Teenage best friends Angela (Maia Mitchell) and Jessie (Camila Morrone) really don’t care about anyone else. They love each other, they love dolphins, and they love the idea of running away together and eating doughnuts on the beach somewhere. Their loyalty to each other is the focus of filmmaker Augustine Frizzell’s Never Goin’ Back, a totally unapologetic female-centered stoner comedy that is as interested in feminist thinking as it is in a very prolonged subplot about poop.
Yes, poop. I already said “raunchy,” didn’t I? Never Goin’ Back is sort of like Spring Breakers crossed with The Florida Project, mixed with the comedic preferences of Jay and Silent Bob or Harold and Kumar. In terms of female-friendship movies, if Thoroughbreds was about the wealthy, Lady Bird was about the middle class, and Whip It was about the working class, then Never Goin’ Back is about people struggling to make it just above the poverty line, living paycheck to paycheck and figuring out which sacrifices to make each week to keep their heads above water.
If Angela and Jessie can scrape together enough for rent, they probably can’t afford food; if they can pay for water, they may not be able to pay for electricity. At only 16 years old, they’re already accustomed to the everyday ups and downs of this life, of having to beg for extra shifts at the diner where they work or asking other people if they can use their laundry machines or “sampling” food from the bulk bins at the grocery store. And they are totally, not in any way, apologizing for how they live — Jessie always has a middle finger ready and Angela is absurdly sharp-tongued. They’ll defend themselves and each other with barely any provocation at all, and how they jump toward each other against other people is their strength — only one of the only weapons they have.
Never Goin’ Back focuses on a week or so of hi-jinks that ensue once Angela surprises Jessie with a trip to Galveston for the latter’s 17th birthday, fulfilling a dream they’ve had since childhood of seeing the beach — but she used all their cash to do it, and rent is due in five days. The plan is to pick up more waitressing shifts to cover the rent money they used for the reservation, but one thing after another goes wrong. Jessie’s brother Dustin (Joel Allan), who looks like he worships at an altar full of pictures of James Franco in Spring Breakers, becomes involved in a drug deal that gets shady quite quickly. Angela and Jessie are antagonized by coworkers at their job, especially the hostesses, who look down upon the waitresses as lesser-than. And there are run-ins with cops; with their roommate Brandon (Kyle Mooney, wonderfully awkward and skeevy, as always), who talks constantly about how jealous he is when he hears the girls hooking up with each other; and with a particularly nasty man at the grocery store who calls Angela a thief and Jessie a whore (leading to Jessie’s wonderfully incredulous “Dressed like what? It’s 1,000 degrees outside!”).
Every interaction with another person is an opportunity for the film to directly address the socioeconomic status of these girls and underline how the specific hardships they face lead them to increasingly reckless choices, but the strength of Frizzell’s script and direction is the film’s constant sense of humor. A neighbor calls them “dirty, dirty girls” after they refuse to spend money taking care of their rental home’s overgrown lawn, so Jessie and Angela make lewd gestures at the woman (“The city’s gonna come on us?” Angela gasps). Before the man in the grocery store starts yelling at them, the girls bask in the air conditioning, a respite from having to walk everywhere in the Texas heat because they can’t afford a car or central air at home. And when they come up with an absurd scheme to get their hands on some cash, they consider turning to sex-work, a subject they’ve already discussed with a sort of blasé matter-of-factness (“If you’re going to go from man to man, you might as well get paid for it,” Jessie says early in the film).
But none of this could work without a strong bond between the two girls, and Mitchell and Morrone do a great job embodying two young women who can count on no one else but each other (in fact, the movie kind of serves as an antithesis to a piece I recently wrote about conflicts in female friendships; these girls do nothing but support each other, and while they never do anything as crazy as murder someone, I still appreciate the counterpoint this all provides to my piece about The Spy Who Dumped Me). They watch porn together (“Don’t ever pee on me!”), they do a ton of drugs together (marijuana and cocaine, mainly), and at a house party, they dance almost exclusively with each other. The movie fully sells their intimacy and loyalty, which is needed as a foundation for when the movie goes off into other ridiculous directions, like a prolonged subplot about Jessie’s refusal to go to the bathroom in unfamiliar locations — holding it in for days at a time — and a scene where the girls, high out of their minds, argue about the purpose of computer screensavers:
Angela: “What is the deal with screensavers like that in a depressing place like this? It just makes me want to be somewhere else. … What they should have is pictures of really sad places.”
Jessie: “Like the dentist coming at you with a drill.”
Angela: “Or Walmart.”
Jessie: “No. Kmart.”
Look, it’s not all high-brow! This is a movie with a climactic poop scene that turns into a climactic projectile-vomiting scene, and a dance battle between a white guy who is convinced he has better moves than a black guy because he’s taken a few hip-hop classes, and some gross nudity that goes down at a sandwich counter, and Angela suggesting to Jessie that they “gang bang the homeless dude” who told them to save the world’s oceans. There are elements here that are undeniably not classy! But Never Goin’ Back is another engaging, one-of-a-kind release from A24 that offers empathy and understanding to characters who both make some very dumb decisions and some very good ones, and its female perspective adds something unique to the stoner comedy genre that until this point has been so often populated by men.
Never Goin’ Back is in limited release around the country, including New York City, Hollywood, Austin, TX, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Philadelphia, Portland, OR, Tempe, AZ, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C.