“In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king,” wrote Erasmus of Rotterdam in the year 1500, never anticipating his sage wisdom would one day apply to a tale that ends with human waste erupting from both ends of the barrel.
The film is Augustine Frizzell’s Never Goin’ Back, a micro-saga about two coked-out young women determined to vacation on Galveston, Texas’ beaches. Combining intellects, Angela (Maia Mitchell) and Jessie (Camila Morrone) equal about half a functional adult, a dread omen but for one saving grace: They’re still smarter than everyone else in the film, and infinitely better people to boot.
Never Goin’ Back is a gross-out comedy that pulls no punches, foul expulsions captured by the eye of a filmmaker who sees art in churning stomachs. We better appreciate what Frizzell achieves using a palette of misbehavior and a script peppered with bad language precisely because she gives us more to hang onto than the cheap shock of watching 2 Girls 1 Cup’s big screen cousin. Angela and Jessie are genuine enough that we care about them, which goes a long way when the object of the exercise is raunch and payoff is made in vomit and ordure. We need a reason to invest in the movie’s anarchic, juvenile behavior. Without that, Frizzell’s just smearing the walls with excretions.
Think of Never Goin’ Back as Clerks by way of Spring Breakers, a character study married to outrageousness: Drug use, defiant vulgarity, toilet humor, and so, so, so many dick jokes. Kyle Mooney’s penis, for instance, has a cameo obscured by khakis, while yet another penis — belonging to a misogynist old codger who berates the girls’ choice in dress — finds its way between two slices of bread in a kinky photo he texts to his much younger mistress. “When in doubt,” Robin Williams is often quoted as saying, “go for the dick joke.” Frizzell never doubts, but she knows when to deploy male members as the butt of jokes: Always at the expense of the dude it’s attached to.
The men earn the scorn, of course. Mooney’s character, Brandon, is a pathetic skeeve for the #MeToo age; Jessie and Angela share a house with him on account of his friendship with Dustin (Joel Allen), Jessie’s older brother, essentially a Josh Hartnett doppelganger with a pornstache. Brandon doesn’t care that Jessie is Dustin’s sister, or that she and Angela are firmly underage. Any chance he gets to hit on them or solicit them for sex, he takes it. You nearly pity Brandon when Frizzell’s camera mocks his boner. We feel no such sympathy for the old man as he falls unconscious in Angela’s pooling puke. If that’s not poetic justice, nothing is.
His punishment is part of Never Goin’ Back’s most explosive moments, in which the dump Jessie’s been holding in since the beginning is finally released. When she and Angela find themselves locked in the sandwich joint where Brandon works, she can bear no longer and makes do with a bucket in a supply closet. Too bad for her: Brandon’s lurking behind the counter. Turns out he owns the place. Too bad for him: The odor of Jessie’s flux overpowers Angela’s senses, sending her stumbling from the closet spewing torrents of bile, the older guy caught unawares and collapsing to the floor in a comatose heap. It’s a nauseating Rube Goldberg machine prompted by a bowel movement.
It’s glorious, and it isn’t even Never Goin Back’s best sequence, which involves pancakes, stop-start editing, and Michael Bolton’s “How Am I Supposed to Live Without You,” and needs to be seen to be appreciated. It’s just another curveball from the year’s wildest and most unexpectedly compassionate comedies, where empathy is found in a hurricane of bodily fluids.
Never Goin’ Back is out now in theaters.
Andy Crump is a contributor for Paste magazine, The Playlist, WBUR’s The ARTery, Slant Magazine, The Hollywood Reporter, and Birth. Movies. Death., and is a member of the Online Film Critics Society and the Boston Online Film Critics Association. Follow him on Twitter @agracru.