Although you’re very unlikely to find one with actual queer content, there’s always at least a hint of homosexual desire simmering in the background of most dude-bro buddy comedies. Pairings like Bill & Ted, Harold & Kumar, and the Dude & Dude duo from Dude, Where’s My Car? are always so hopelessly made for each other that their mutual boy-crushes can never be fully covered up by a “no-homo” balking at the indication. The A24-distributed stoner comedy Never Goin’ Back’s greatest achievement is in making that same-sex desire buddy comedy subtext an explicit part of the text, then shrugging it off like it’s no big deal (because it isn’t). The mutual sexual attraction between stoner-buddy protagonists that is usually covered up with frantic jabs of gay panic humor is presented so casually in Never Goin’ Back that is never confirmed whether the duo in question are a romantic couple or just good buds who sometimes kiss for fun. It’s a fresh take on material that could very easily feel stale, but it’s also kind of a shame that the way we had to get there was by making both protagonists female.
Two young high school dropouts turned waitresses hatch a seemingly low-stakes plan to spend their rent money on a beach trip, then earn the money back by working ten straight days of double-shifts. With the gorgeous utopia of Galveston, TX just one week away, they hatch a series of ill-advised schemes to keep their heads above water—schemes that land them jobless, arrested, impossibly stoned, and more broke than ever. It’s kind of an anti-heist picture in that way, with the clockwork efficiency of a well-executed plan replaced by the whims of two wildly irresponsible young women attempting to wing it on the fly and failing miserably at every turn. The central beach trip is a kind of MacGuffin, of course, with flashbacks to the girls’ past hijinks frequently interrupting the flow of the narrative for the sake of a gag—like a TV show highlight reel. Being desperate & stoned does have its inherent, escalating conflicts, though, especially since the girls are blunderously locked into a series of get-rich-quick schemes that all immediately implode.
The desperate need for money that drives Never Goin’ Back’s story beats makes for great comedic tension, but the film’s greatest strength is in contrasting raunchy shock humor with the tender earnestness of a friendship so close it’s indistinguishable from romance. The two girls at the center (Maia Mitchell & Camila Morrone) share drugs & kisses indiscriminately, draw dicks on each other’s sleeping faces as if life were a nonstop slumber party, and refer to each other as “Dude” as if it were the sweetest pet name imaginable. The small-town ghouls that get in the way of their beach trip (including SNL’s Kyle Mooney as an awkward-pervert roommate) all feel like stock characters we’ve seen countless times before in dude-bro comedies, but the total infatuation & blasé sexual ambiguity shared between the leads plays as one-of-a-kind. I’d love to see this same dynamic spread into the boy-boy relationship dynamics of the typical stoner buddy comedy, but what’s on screen here for now is so endearingly sweet (especially in contrast to the crass world that engulfs it) that I have to respect the film tremendously for the way it’s already pushing the thematic boundaries of its genre.