It’s been a while since we’ve seen a proper stoner comedy that doesn’t have Seth Rogen or James Franco trampled somewhere into the inner-workings.
And it’s been even longer since we’ve seen one with not only a female duo at the head of it, but a woman behind the camera too. If ever. So in many ways, Never Goin’ Back feels like a bit of a long time coming, and while it’s certainly a significantly more worthwhile and oddly warm revision of the genre, it’s not exactly looking to change the world either.
As far as girlfriends go, you’d be hard pushed to find a better pairing than Maia Mitchell and Camila Morrone. Their breezy sisterhood is very much the hardwired battery here, keeping every joke and every twist turning in stupendously fun fashion. Some are darker than others, and though there’s definitely a far more sinister bass-line rocking away in the background (it’s a film about teenage runaways living with drug dealers on the poverty line), writer/director Frizzell’s instinct is to keep things light wherever she can. The big laughs often overhang the moodier moments, and Greta Zozula’s gorgeous, naturalistic cinematography seems a little at odds with the film’s fart humour. But it’s in this constant flip-flopping between genuine stress and classic teenage silliness, that we find the very believable foil for the girls’ adventures.
They’re quite literally their own worst enemies; sensationally loveable one minute, devoutly frustrating the next. As deeply flawed as teenagers often are, especially ones forced out without any real worldly experience. It seems wise that we never really dive into their histories (no cheap sympathy or sob stories), but instead we’re asked to deal with them both on face-value, which can be mighty tricky when our first glimpse involves a fair amount of cocaine. It’s a huge credit to Mitchell, Morrone and the script, that we latch onto the girls as quickly and for as long as we do. What keeps us interested isn’t just the effortless chemistry, but the very fact that everyone involved is willing to embrace their vulnerability, and their flaws as characters, instead of simply riffing on them for laughs.
The same can’t exactly be said of the supporting cast though, or anything really beyond the leading duo’s purview. The girls’ male counterparts are not only fairly brainless and un-involving, but also a little too familiar (wannabe gangsters with poor facial hair and even worse social skills), and the time we end up spending with them slows things down quite considerably. It’s a long 85 minutes, with one or two tangents too many, and although the leads keep it as lively as they can when on screen, when they’re not around the audience definitely pays for it.
All in, Never Goin’ Back is a beautifully simple week-in-the-life story, with an engaging female friendship at its heart, and a total shaggy-dog-story of a plot that keeps itself firmly steered towards entertainment.
Its storytelling and general ethos are far from special, but its leads very much are, leading a lively, maturely-shot, but meandering female-lead take on the all-American slacker.
Never Goin’ Back was screened as part of the Sundance Film Festival: London.