Never Goin’ Back, 2018.
Written and Directed by Augustine Frizzell.
Starring Maia Mitchell, Camila Morrone, Kyle Mooney, Joel Allen, Kendal Smith, Matthew Holcomb, Atheena Frizzell, Spencer Rayshon, Marcus Mauldin, and Liz Cardenas.
Jessie and Angela, high school dropouts, are taking a week off to chill at the beach. Too bad their house got robbed, rent’s due, they’re about to get fired, and they’re broke.
There’s a line from diner manager Roderick that sums up Never Goin’ Back quite appropriately; the increasingly frustrated ringleader tells underage high school dropouts Angela and Jessie (Maia Mitchell and Camila Morrone respectively) that they are entertaining as hell but also far too prone to screwing up. Now, I enjoy a good stoner comedy as much as the next person, but this debut feature from writer and director Augustine Frizzell (a shorts filmmaker who also dabbles in minor acting roles, but is likely more known in some circles as being the granddaughter of country singer Lefty Frizzell) tends to take itself seriously to the point where the irresponsible behavior, minors clearly coming from some sort of broken home or not, comes across as more grating than charming.
Although the two besties have no funds and live with Angela’s brother (Joel Allen) whose ambitions in life amount to becoming a successful and financially lucrative drug dealer, for Jessie’s upcoming 17th birthday the former girl has taken it upon herself to book a low-key vacation on a beach in Galveston. It’s not exactly Florida, but hey, it will do as a means to get some valuable time away from the stresses of trying to adult while technically still being a child. For further clarification, it’s never really stated what has happened to the guardians of these girls, and while some information might have gone a decent way towards creating some empathy for the countless mistakes made throughout the quick 90-minute running time, it’s also not a necessity to the plot.
Instead, Never Goin’ Back functions as a series of unfortunate events that further lead to bankrupting the girls, some of which are a result of Angela’s idiotic brother, while the rest can be chalked up to poor decision-making on the part of the dynamic duo. There’s a segment in the middle of the film where the girls are apparently going to receive another chance at keeping their jobs despite already having numerous red marks before what the audience sees in the movie, and for a brief moment, it seems that they might take responsibility and do the right thing. Nope, checking out a happening party filled with alcohol and drugs before their night shift turns out to be more important. It’s also the point where I realized that the story of these girls was more aggravating than endearing, as previously mentioned.
Take nothing away from the performances, as Maia Mitchell and Camila Morrone deliver a pair of highly authentic turns as immature teenagers. They are both perky, rambunctious, outspoken, and likable to a point. Additionally, they have wonderful chemistry together making you feel the inseparable bond they have every second they share. So, in that regard, as a statement on best friends being there for each other no matter what through the good times and the bad, it’s easy to get on the same wavelength as the movie. Still, it’s also a story about people that find drugs to be more worth spending money on than, you know, actually paying bills. Chalk it up to being surrounded by friends and family members that have been forced to grow up faster than what is expected, but for as bright and carefree as the personalities of these girls are, once again, their shortcomings and flat-out wrong decisions drove me mad. I suspect the movie will do the same thing to other moviegoers as well.
Setting shaky characterization aside, there are elements of the loose narrative that fall into amateurish moments of bad writing. A certain revelation involving the owner of a sandwich shop is just too convenient for the narrative to accept at face value. Furthermore, where the film goes from there only seems to encourage their illegal behavior. Normally, I wouldn’t care and would just go along for the ride, but Augustine Frizzell’s picture, for the few laughs involving toilet humor that it does contain and actually surprisingly land, appears to be operating on a statement regarding the youth of America.
Times are tough, some children have it rough, but there’s no need to glorify and encourage this behavior on display. Never Goin’ Back is a version of The Florida Project that wildly misses the mark, generating no empathy for the juvenile antics on display here. Unfortunately, genuine camaraderie and fantastic performances aren’t enough to cover up every mistake Angela and Jessie make.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com