Maybe with the proper family support system and under different circumstances, Angela and Jessie would have been high school superstars — near the top of their class, popular as heck, telling their Stories on Instagram, mapping out plans for college, taking great big bites of the world every day.
After all, they’re intelligent, resourceful, dynamic and yes, mischievous girls. They’re in love with one another in that fierce, intense, I-can’t-live-without-you teenage way.
And they’re best friends. We get the distinct feeling they could very well remain this close for the next half-century.
That is, if one or the other doesn’t wind up serving serious time or otherwise destroying her life.
Writer-director Augustine Frizzell’s “Never Goin’ Back” is a rude, crude, rambling, raucous, sometimes quite gross and often very funny and endearing slice of lives we don’t often see portrayed on the big screen.
It’s the story of Angela (Maia Mitchell) and Jessie (Camila Morrone), high school dropouts living in near-poverty in a cruddy section of Fort Worth, Texas, with not a parental unit in sight.
Angela is 17; Jessie is a few months younger. Yes, they’re often irresponsible and they dabble in light crime and they have no big-picture vision of where their lives could be heading — but how well would any of us do under similar conditions?
Angela and Jessie work as waitresses in a dumpy diner, but they like to party and they frequently come up with semi-creative excuses to miss work. Every month it’s a struggle to pay their share of the rent on the rundown house they share with Jessie’s older brother Dustin (Joel Allen), an astonishingly dim wannabe weed dealer, and the only slightly less dopey Brandon (Kyle Mooney of “Saturday Night Live”), who mans the counter at a local sandwich shop.
Shortly before Jessie’s 17thbirthday, Angela surprises her by making reservations for a trip to the beaches of Galveston. (We’re told Jessie’s 16thbirthday “sucked,” but no further details are furnished.) Problem is, Angela used the rent money to pay for the trip, so the girls have to sign up for triple shifts at the diner in order to make enough cash to avoid getting tossed out of the house before they leave town.
Meanwhile, idiot older brother Joel’s criminal ambitions lead to a tragicomic incident at the house, which results in Angela and Jessie spending 48 hours in jail. By the time they’re sprung, they’re even more desperate to score some quick cash — which leads to a series of increasingly outlandish and ill-conceived misadventures.
I have groused before about the casting of actors who are clearly too old to be playing high schoolers. Maia Mitchell is 24 and Camilla Morrone is 21, but they’re both adept at capturing the looks and the mannerisms and the impulsive behavior of 17-ish teenagers who are smarter than just about everyone else in their lives — but more than a little naive about the world outside their very small daily experiences.
“Never Goin’ Back” relies a little too much on gross-out, scatological and stoner humor, but while it’s certainly not the first time a female-driven comedy has featured such scenes (see “Bridesmaids”), it’s still relatively rare when it’s the girl(s) projectile vomiting or experiencing serious bathroom issues or getting stoned beyond coherence on pot-laced cookies. (I guess you could call it a blow for lowbrow movie comedy equality.)
Mitchell and Morrone are gamers in these scenes, throwing themselves into the comedy with admirable gusto. And while there are times when Angela (in particular) and Jessie come across as selfish brats, there’s never a moment when we’re not rooting for these two to somehow carve out a better life for themselves.
Kudos to writer-director Frizzell for demonstrating a sharp ear for comedic dialogue, a fine sense of storytelling as a director — and for incorporating Michael Bolton’s “How Am I Supposed to Live Without You?” as well as Barry Manilow’s “Mandy” into the soundtrack.
“Never Goin’ Back”
★★★ A24 presents a film written and directed byAugustine Frizzell. Rated R (for crude sexual content and language throughout, drug use and brief nudity — all involving teens.). Running time: 86 minutes. Opens Friday at Landmark Century Centre.