SXSW Review: NEVER GOIN’ BACK Loves Being Young And Wild
Angela (Maia Mitchell) and Jessie (Camila Morrone) are sixteen, in love, didn't finish high school, and don’t give a fuck. They live together in a shitty little house they share with Angela's brother Dustin (Joel Allen), while working shifts at the local flap jack house, where their boss Roderick (Marcus M. Mauldin) finds the ditzy white lesbians amusing. By his account, they're generally good workers – when they're not faking sick (by throwing up chugged milk on his shoes) or showing up loaded, that is – and their carousing antics are mostly harmless. However, after Angela buys a trip to Galveston for Jessie using their rent money, and Dustin gets robbed while going in on a pound of weed to break up and deal with his boys, they might be looking at eviction this week. Add in a burglary by one of their roomie's accomplices – loudmouth Tony (Kendal Smith), who brings his little homie (Aristotle Abraham II) for backup – and suddenly life is just a little too complicated for the girls’ taste.
Freshman writer/director Augustine Frizzell's Never Goin' Back is a hangout movie where our company is a gaggle of fuck ups just trying to get by while having a good time. It's a feature length episode of Shameless, filtered through Spring Breakers, as Angela and Jessie become guides to this low rent Texas way of scraping together a meager living, just to blow it all on weed, booze and coke. When the cops show up to investigate your house getting broken into, it's more than likely going to be your ass that gets thrown in jail, where the phone doesn't work and you can't call the diner to let them know those ten shifts you just picked up in order to cover that East Texas shore condo stay are probably not going to get filled. But it's cool. Juvie ain't shit, and as long as the two lovebirds have each other by their sides, they'll get through whatever consequences their wasted shenanigans carry along with them.
Produced by David Lowery – for whom Frizzell acted in Pete's Dragon, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, and A Ghost Story – Never Goin' Back has a free-wheeling style and spirit that somewhat masks the screenplay's carefully structured narrative beats. There's a real live-wire electricity to the way these girls interact, their dialogue often seeming spontaneous and unscripted, while the doofus boys they're stuck rooming with – including stinky sandwich artist Brandon (Kyle Mooney), who's always trying to see them make out – are mostly condescending assholes who think they know better because (duh) they're men, obviously. But Frizzell’s film says “fuck ‘em all”; Angela and Jessie are crafty in their own ways, and aren’t about to start surfing craigslist for a new spot over a couple dumbass misfortunes.
For anyone who's ever grown up broke, working shitty jobs, but still drinking, smoking and snorting your ass off whenever the clock says your shift is up, Never Goin' Back is going to contain an incredible amount of resonance. Even a quick exchange at the diner – where a server tells Angela and Jessie to "meet him in the bathroom" to buy some weed – contains a fountain of truth, as the girls debate amongst themselves which of them makes the deal (because he's pissed at the urinal while pawning off trees before). There's no future in this town, but there's also no past either. All that matters is whatever the hell happens today, and how much fun can be had before the clock strikes midnight. If it ends up involving a robbery of the sandwich shop to keep the landlord off their backs, that's just the way the day's going to go.
After the girls spend forty-eight hours in lockup, the movie begins to build up some narrative steam, as we tag along with them, stopping for free sandwiches from Brandon at the grub spot, before heading home to wash our uniforms before work. But what Angela and Jessie weren’t told is that the water bill was part of the weed deposit that got jacked, and now they’ve got no plumbing in their place. Like two Snapchatting Odysseuses with a backpack full of shitty smelling clothes, they set out on a quest to the laundromat, which gets sidetracked by a party on the other side of this world. Don’t get fucked up. Don’t get fucked up. Don’t get fucked up. That’s the mantra before clocking in. Only they can’t help it if those cookies they found in R. Dog’s (Anthony Phoenix) fridge were baked with weed butter, right? Someone should have labeled them properly.
Never Goin’ Back becomes a series of calamities we endure along with the young lovers because, no matter how dopey they may be, there’s still something insanely magnetic about the bond they share. Mitchell and Morrone – the former a Disney Channel star, the latter with only five credits to her name on IMDb thus far – generate this naturalistic chemistry where they’re practically finishing one another’s sentences. All the while, Frizzell’s camera lovingly follows them like an invisible entourage member, hanging on their every word, while becoming just as disgusted by these boys as they are. Cinematographer Greta Zozula – who’s only shot two micro-indie features before this (along with some shorts and TV) – lenses it all with an eye that would make Richard Linklater jealous, painting this dying Texas town in a series of soft, sunny tones, each composition practically begging us to go day drinking with the girls (before doing a few bumps to keep ourselves rolling into the evening).
With Never Goin’ Back, Frizzell isn't just making a stoner character study, but capturing a specific cultural moment. In essence, her frame becomes a series of moving Polaroids, documenting uninhibited Texas youth during the Millennial era, each trap rap song that drops on the playlist an invitation to dance in the car or roll up a blunt. We're getting a snapshot of what the reckless and poor contingent of this generation live like, diverting themselves with drugs, alcohol and back alley odysseys. Because there's a time and place for a future, but it's not here. Though we never hear anyone utter the titular phrase, we almost get a sense that we're watching the memories of a former wild child as they look back on the year when they just stopped giving a shit what society thought about them. All that mattered in the end was getting to Galveston, so that they could throw on bikinis and eat donuts while the sun sets. Are those simple, trashy pleasures really too much to ask?