Never Goin’ Back (2018)
From A24, a studio that’s never disappointed me before — I’m still thinking about this year’s “Hereditary” — comes “Never Goin’ Back,” a fun, female-driven romp based on newcomer writer/director Augustine Frizzell’s real-life teenage experiences.
Before the review, let’s get this out of the way: underage characters smoke weed in this film, and DOPE does not condone minors consuming cannabis. Does it happen? Of course. But it’s still illegal, and we don’t approve. Shame on you, teens! Get off our lawn.
That being said, underage characters smoke a lot of weed in this film! And act accurately high, too. Cannabis’ portrayal in the media is often unrealistic; characters instantly get out-of-the-stratosphere stoned, and claim they can’t control their actions. Those things should never happen, and if they do … you’re smoking more than weed. More realistically, you walk around like you’re in quicksand and wonder if people know you’re high, which is what happens when the two main characters accidentally eat some edibles.
Spoiler: they know.
Angela (Maia Mitchell, “Teen Beach Movie,” “The Fosters”) and Jessie (Camila Morrone, “Death Wish”) are high school dropouts. They work at a diner — when they remember to show up — and are generally just trying to scrape by. Tired of their routine, Angela uses their rent money to buy them a trip to the beach — well, to Galveston, Texas — to celebrate Jessie’s upcoming birthday. Naturally, antics ensue, and they scramble to make rent, keep their jobs and make it to the beach in one piece.
Angela and Jessie’s relationship isn’t clearly defined, but it doesn’t really matter. They’re close friends in the way young women often are; they’d do anything for one another. The movie will undoubtedly garner comparisons to “Broad City” and “Spring Breakers” — vehicles where women consume cannabis, get into trouble and generally make bad decisions. I, for one, am glad more titles are being added to the “Female Stoners Behaving Badly” oeuvre.
There’s something refreshing about seeing female characters who are fuck-ups. Men have cornered the gross-out comedy genre for far too long, and when we do see women in stoner comedies they’re often “downer” characters who inspire their male counterparts to make something of themselves. That, in my humble opinion, sucks. Not all women are overachievers; some love weed and taking stupid chances. That’s a human trait, not a male trait. I’m in bed by 10 p.m. and get stressed out watching films meant for children, but hey, I don’t have to relate to a movie to enjoy it.
The production design and costumes — done by women, Olivia Peebles and Annell Broduer, respectively — help the world of “Never Goin’ Back” escape the clichés that often abound in stories about young people, from poverty porn (“They live in trash, how terribly quaint!”) to outlandish unreality (how did the titular friends of “Friends” afford that huge apartment?) Empty cans of La Croix on nightstand, no toilet paper left in the bathroom and photos with scribbled notes tacked haphazardly on their bedroom wall are touches that make the film feel lived-in.
Greta Zozula’s (“Manchester by the Sea,” “Martha Marcy May Marlene”) cinematography is dreamy, with a lazy, summery haze reminiscent of Sofia Coppola’s work. The editing (Courtney Ware, along with writer/director Frizzell) provided a number of laughs. Several hard cuts and musical cues — memorably, to Michael Bolton’s “How Am I Supposed to Live Without You” — caught me off guard with a tight comedic timing. I also appreciated seeing characters actually sweating and having disheveled hair in the Texas heat — there’s nothing more obnoxious than actors with perfect hair and makeup talking about how warm and sweaty they are.
Mitchell and Morrone lead the story, but Joel Allen, Kendal Smith and Matthew Holcomb steal scenes with their straight portrayal of total fuckups, another arena where clichés could have abounded. Dustin (Allen) plays Jessie’s dirt bag brother who brings his equally dirt bag friends, Tony (Smith) and Ryan (Holcomb), around the apartment to scheme quick ways to make cash. And I’m biased, but Kyle Mooney steals “Never Goin’ Back” as the painfully awkward Brandon. His stilted mannerisms make just about anything that comes out of his mouth funny; at one point in the film, trying to be sexy, he calls his penis a “monster boy.”
Yes, there are moments in the movie where you’ll ask yourself, “Why are the characters doing this?” They’re teens — they make bad decisions. We all did (and still do) to some extent. But the film doesn’t portray Angela and Jessie as cool or enviable; rather, they’re a bit pitiable, in a protective, Mama Bear sort of way. You want things to work out for them — they just need to figure their shit out and make something of their lives. All they want is to leave their day-to-day grind, smoke weed and get to the damn beach. Don’t we all?