‘Never Goin’ Back’ Film Review: Texas Teenagers Take a Bumpy Ride in Wild Indie Comedy

Augustine Frizzell’s righteously raunchy girls-on-filth spree has a rollicking spirit and two engaging lead performances

Last Updated: August 1, 2018 @ 10:46 AM

As the Cyndi Lauper song catchily blared, girls just want to have fun. And one of them — writer-director Augustine Frizzell — wants girls to have their own Texas-baked, Linklater-smoked-and-exhaled female buddy romp. That comes in “Never Goin’ Back,” her geographically constricted, misadventure indie-comedy that is as likely to tickle chemically-altered after-party crowds as to scare the living daylights out of after-school church groups.

Frizzell’s unrepentantly filthy, frisky celebration of lipsticked bestie-dom in the face of desperation and humiliation won’t win any awards for comic originality: The bad-day-genre standbys of “oops” drug intake, dumb schemes, and digestive mishaps are all present and accounted for. But “Never Goin’ Back,” which Frizzell has admitted is in ways an honest, personal reckoning with incidents in her own fumbling adolescence, has something many comedies simply fail to care about: a spark-filled joie de vivre about the stupidity of youth that lifts it above many more cynically crass (and typically male) examples of the genre.

Maia Mitchell (“The Fosters”) and Camila Morrone (“Death Wish”), channeling the dizzy-dame sparkle of Depression era comediennes Thelma Todd and Zasu Pitts, star as cash-strapped teenage waitresses Angela and Jessie, who share a bedroom in a rented, parentless house with Jessie’s older brother Dustin (Joel Allen), and a skeevy nerd named Brandon (Kyle Mooney, “Saturday Night Live”). Joyously profane hedonists, the girls want nothing more than to briefly flee their sleepy Dallas suburb for a donuts-and-ganja-on-the-beach weekend in Galveston, Texas to celebrate Jessie’s 17th birthday.

Though a night in a surfside condo will clean them out financially, Angela figures if they work every shift they can schedule for a week at their diner job — where their rascally charm has been known to win over their accommodating boss (Marcus Mauldin) — they can make up the trip’s cost.

It’s a sweetly enterprising spirit this pair give off, between raunchy outbursts — dirty pranks, chewing out the judgmental, flipping off everyone — and we-don’t-know-any-better positivity, the latter exemplified by moony looks into each other’s eyes, pinky touches, and declarations of togetherness. In other words, cue the obstacles, which start with an early-morning robbery but quickly devolve into self-imposed penalties tied to their recreational drug use (which results in an overnight stay in juvie jail) and ill-conceived ideas (doing laundry at a friend’s house during a day-drinking blowout).

The occasional detours to a low-energy side plot involving Dustin’s dunderheaded attempts to become a drug dealer with friend Cedric (Aristotle Abraham II) are the movie’s undeniable weak spots. (Ugh. Boys.) But when Frizzell cleaves to her attitude-rich protagonists and their optimistic soldiering through an alternatively bizarre and raucous 48 hours, the movie hits its subjectively silly stride — think a debauched “Romy & Michelle” set to trap music — and manages to feel at times like its own bird-flip to all teen movies that reflexively portray female friendships as minefields of envy and vengeance.

Even the fact that Jessie and Angela occasionally make out in their room, a detail cherished by the wishful/fantasizing Brandon, doesn’t feel needlessly prurient or like an attempt to label them. It sounds heartening, like what a couple of small-town pleasure-seekers new to independence might do to obliterate the outside world of crappy jobs and broke-ass-ness. And while nobody on their own at 16 probably has an enviable backstory, none is provided for Angela and Jessie, as if Frizzell believes doing so would unnecessarily sentimentalize them.

It helps that Australia-born Mitchell, whose vibe is edgy and more calculating, and the softer-featured Morrone are slyly gifted physical actors, as infectious with the shared relief of grocery-store air conditioning on a sticky Texas day as they are seconds later when Angela righteously pops off on an old man in an aisle who calls them whores. Even more surprising is how imaginatively the leads perform the overused, aforementioned we-accidentally-got-high bit, from their zombified movements to their reaction to pancakes (which Frizzell gooses humorously with stop-and-start snippets of Michael Bolton’s “How Am I Supposed to Live Without You”), culminating in a priceless exchange with their exasperated boss.

There will surely be those who wonder why the liberation of women from the Siberia of unfunny-girlfriend roles and shaming bit parts in male-driven comedies has to mean the vulgar, egregiously bad antics on display in “Never Goin’ Back,” starring nubile Millennials with seemingly no direction in life beyond their own immediate happiness. Because, Frizzell forthrightly declares with her body-admiring camera and bodily-function comic payoffs, sometimes freedom is pretty, and sometimes it’s gross.

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