NEVER GOIN BACK- Featured Waitresses

With almost no knowledge of the plot, I went into a screening of NEVER GOIN BACK. I knew it was about two women — actually more like girls as it turns out. I also figured there was perhaps a road trip element — the goin’ back or lack thereof. As I settled in, I had a bit more time before the movie began playing. Thus, I investigated a more detailed plot description.

The phrase “stoner comedy” stood out to me. Beyond the HAROLD AND KUMAR films, I could not think of a true stoner comedy I had enjoyed. No, not even HALF BAKED. I considered ditching for a moment, but I decided not to. I had a duty after all. Plus, a female-driven buddy stoner comedy is a very rare thing, indeed. It was probably better to support it on principle and hope for the best.

Did NEVER GOIN BACK overcome my anti-stoner comedy biases though?

NEVER GOIN' BACK- Poster Image
Mia Mitchell and Camila Morrone are totally blissed out in this image from NEVER GOIN BACK. Image Courtesy of A24.

The Idea Behind NEVER GOIN BACK

Jessie (Camila Morrone) is days from her seventeenth birthday and her friend Angela (Maia Mitchell) wants to make it special. So she takes their rent money, due in a week, and puts it all towards a beach vacation. It will be fine, she reasons, since she and Jessie are working 10 shifts before the rent is due.

The best-laid plans, however, still find a way to go awry. Even the best-laid plans of teen high school dropouts living largely on their own with little by way of a reliable support system. Thus, their penchant for drugs, absenteeism from work, and short fuses threaten to derail their special beach weekend before it even starts.

And that is even before we get into the other people in their life. Jessie’s older brother Dustin (Joel Allen) who doubles as her guardian and roommate is a wannabe drug dealer. His inability to even acquire a supply spells bad news for the apartment’s door and a television. Their other roommate Brandon (Kyle Mooney) is always ready to sexually harass the two underage girls despite clearly being far from prepared to ever deal with one nevermind both of them at once. Even work is not a respite as the hostess Crystal (Atheena Frizzell, presumably connected to writer-director Augustine Frizzell in some way) is a kiss-up who has her eye on their jobs.

They do their best to salvage things. However, every choice they make seems to only sink them deeper into the proverbial quicksand.

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The Writing

The script from director Frizzell is agreeably shaggy and loose as one would expect from a stoner comedy. Angela and Jessie are fairly well-drawn. You can see their symbiotic relationship, but they do not feel like the same exact person, which can be a hard balancing act to pull off.

However, I never found it funny, really. I smiled several times, laughed maybe two or three times. You can certainly understand why they find each other funny and that shared humor feels true. However, from the outside looking in, it just didn’t connect.

There is also a running scatological joke that kicks in around the half hour mark and lasts until nearly the end of the film. I should note that in addition to stoner humor, I’m also not a huge scatological humor fan. So to have it be not just a joke but a joke that threads throughout the plot does not help things.

Overall, the script is not bad, but it never overcomes my own biases against this genre. The duo’s stoner exploits just never get as wild and dada-esque as they needed to hook me.

One thing that I will say I do not think works regardless of your feeling about stoner films is the movie’s last ten minutes. It places the girls somewhere that is supposed to feel like a victory — or perhaps a victory slipping away depending on what you think happens next. However, it is the fulfillment of a fantasy they just gave voice to literal minutes before. Thus, it does not feel as cathartic or thrilling as it would if the script had given the girls this dream earlier on.

NEVER GOIN' BACK- Jessie and Angela
Morrone and Mitchell fight back against osteoporosis in a scene from NEVER GOIN BACK. Image Courtesy of A24.

Casting The Leads of NEVER GOIN BACK

As noted above, the script does a nice job of giving Jessie and Angela a shared language without making them interchangeable. However, without Morrone and Mitchell selling it, it still could have gone very much awry. There is a reality to their chemistry and to how they speak the lines.

Moreover, their body language sells subtext that I’m not convinced is in the script. Mitchell has a loose-limbed way of moving and standing that fits with her more laid back “this will all work out” approach to life. Morrone, on the other hand, looks tighter wound and, thus, is least likely to accept “don’t worry” but also far less likely to, say, verbally abuse a middle-aged couple in the grocery store if she was left to her own devices.

Regardless of my feelings about the rest of the movie, these two feel like legit discoveries. I hope we get to see them in more and quickly.

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Casting the Rest of NEVER GOIN BACK Call Sheet

As near as I can tell, this is Joel Allen’s first work beyond a couple of shorts and, certainly, his first feature-length released in theatre effort. That said, he has this smooth agreeable goofiness I found pretty winning. He’s a fuck-up that sort of knows he’s a fuck-up and is generally pretty ok with that.

Marcus M. Mauldin (Roderick) proves to be far and away the most versatile player in the film. In a single scene, he manages to be funny — got a laugh out of me funny — and yet authentic. I have no idea if Angela and Jessie hear him but his simple instruction that they don’t end up dependent on a diner job like he has to be hit harder than anything else in the rest of the movie.

Mooney, who I usually like, on the other hand, feels largely ill-served by the script. His character is so cartoonish from the start that he really has nowhere else to go. Although he does sell one moment of reacting with legitimate pride when one character insists that he is basically like the manager of where he works.

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Filming

Frizzell’s directing style mirrors her script fairly closely. She lets characters and locations breathe with wide shots and long scenes. However, when she does use close-ups, she makes them count. Her two leads have expressive faces, and she lets the camera come in close and linger, capturing their twinkling eyes while scheming as well as their flat looks when overwhelmed by Texas heat or lost in a THC-induced haze.

Her use of the mid-Texas setting proves a good choice. There is something very specific and yet generically American about it. You can tell it is Texas for sure, but the dying strip malls, the bland suburban tracts, and the sense of disaffected teens just trying to find their next taste of excitement feels universal. Everybody knows a town or part of town in driving distance that looks or feels like this place. You can feel how it is a place that one would do anything to leave and still somehow wake up there years later with roots firmly set down.

NEVER GOIN' BACK- Grocery store
Mitchell and Morrone discover the joys of air conditioning in NEVER GOIN BACK. Image Courtesy of A24.

Striking the Set

There is a lot to like about NEVER GOIN BACK. I love that it is a stoner comedy with women leads, a rarity. The fact that a woman writer-director was at the helm makes it rarer and makes me want to like it all the more. I appreciate the setting and the sense of a shared existence the movie gives Angela and Jessie.

Still, it just can’t get past my aversion to the genre. If you are more interested in or open to stoner comedies, it will probably connect far better. For me though…it just never got enough above its genre conventions to find a way into my heart or head.

 

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