Directed by: Augustine Frizzell/2018
Writer/Director Augustine Frizzell brings us the tale of two teen women as they seek to break out of their dead-end life to pursue their one dream of going to the beach and eating a donut, as they swim with dolphins. While known more as an actress, Augustine is making her feature film directorial debut, with the help of her friend, director David Lowry (A Ghost Story, Pete’s Dragon, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints), who serves as producer for this film. It is called Never Goin’ Back.
Never Goin’ Back is the female version of what James Franco, Seth Rogan, and Jonah Hill have basically made a career of, playing off of drug-induced laughs, stunted emotional growth characters, and juvenile toilet-based humor. Though with this film, the results are mixed. On one hand Maia Mitchell and Camila Morrone are able to effectively create enough interest in their characters to keep one’s attention in order to spark enough curiosity as to where their character’s misadventures are leading. On the other hand, the narrative arc of these two high school dropouts is uneven at best with their drug-culture related reactions to life’s circumstances being a bit too one-note as it continues for the duration of the film.
Angela (Mitchell) and Jessie (Morrone) are under-aged high-school dropouts who room together, along with Jessie’s older brother Dustin (Joel Allen), and his friend Brandon (Kyle Mooney-Brigsby Bear, Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising). Angela and Jessie basically exist on a never-ending cycle of working at a local Ft. Worth diner, before looking to find the next party where they will undoubtedly take drugs, perform outrageous acts, and hang with others who do the same.
They look down with disdain on Dustin, and his hair-brained plans to “start a business” and “get a new squad”, as that just means he is looking to get back into selling pot. While they have to put up with Dustin due to the fact that he is Jessie’s older brother, Brandon is someone they’d just like to get rid of as he is relentlessly tries to hit on them both as they constantly rebuff his sexual advances.
The crux of the film is that Angela has used their money, that should go to next week’s rent, and instead has bought Jessie a birthday present in the form of a trip to Galveston. There, they will sit on the beach, eat a donut, and swim with the dolphins. Anyone who has been to Galveston, which is just an hour or so from my house here in Houston, knows that it is not the paradise that Angela and Jessie seem to believe it to be. Sure, they know that Florida and California beaches would be far better, but they recognize that they are girls of very little means, and all things considered, this would be a huge vacation for them at this station of life. To make sure they can afford it all, Angela has secured them 10 straight shifts at the diner to make back the rent money they spent on this trip. Of course, the best laid plans are sure to go awry, and soon Angela and Jessie find themselves in juvenile detention, out of work, and trying to find a way to both pay the rent, and take that trip.
The film certainly captures the feel of a drug-obsessed generation who can only dream big enough to deal with immediate situations so as to get them to the next high. Some of the comedic situations the girls find themselves work very well as both Mitchell and Morrone sell the gags effectively. One particular incident involves a private conversation about their boss, that turns out to not be so private. Another is a of a robbery by Dustin and his squad, that is not as well thought out as they seem to think.
Never Goin’ Back, unfortunately, has very little to offer in terms of character growth, and narrative purpose. On one hand, it could be made to serve as a humorous cautionary tale, but it never aims that high. It also lazily panders to an unsatisfying stereotype of all teens being focused on getting high and acting stupid, with no real aspirations beyond immediate self-obsessed gratification. These teens are shown to be constantly displaying an over-compensating bravado that is demonstrated by simply cussing out anyone who questions them and their actions, before plowing full-steam ahead into outrageous high-jinx.
Adults are just as crass, rude, and perverted as the teens. If the film was seeking to provide a subtle commentary, a natural one would be that the youth culture of today just didn’t happen randomly, but they learned it from those who went before them, bridging the gap between the adults and the teen protagonists. This film doesn’t seem to be trying to have any particular message besides showing to what lengths two stoned teen-age girls might go to get out of their current circumstances, that they basically contributed to in the first place.
Never Goin’ Back embodies the stunted dreams of a drug-obsessed teen culture that are too high to really go anywhere, based completely on the stereotypes of a such a culture within the film. While occasionally generating some laughs and some likable enough characters, there is simply not much else happening to make me want to sit through this film twice. I guess you could say that I’m Never Goin’ Back to it.