1 Hr., 25 Mins.
Never Goin' Back
here is really only one moment of relief for the characters of Never Goin’ Back (2018). Momentary respite comes when they breeze into a grocery store partway through the film, which has thus far thrown them into a hurricane of misunderstandings, setbacks, and tragicomic blows. What’s sort of funny, but also sort of sad, is that the momentary letting-up in their misery simply comes from a gust of air conditioning. The South-Texas heat has been so relentless these past few days that a freezing-cold draft is enough to persuade the film’s writer, director, and editor, Augustine
Frizzell, to present the fleeting high in melodramatic slow-motion.
The rest of Never Goin’ Back, which is also Frizzell’s directing debut, is a series of unfortunate events. In its miserable world, you have to savor the little things, à la a functioning AC, to keep yourself from falling into a vat of despair. The film circles around a couple of high-school dropouts, 16-year-old best friends and stoners Angela and Jessie (Maia Mitchell and Camilla Morrone). They work tirelessly at a nowheresville mom-and-pop-style diner, and they room with the latter’s small-time drug-dealer-cum-pornographer brother, Dustin (Joel Allen), in a battered shack on the outskirts of town. We spend about a week with these characters; all is supposed to end with a trip to Galveston, a seamy beach town, where the girls will be spending Jessie’s 17th birthday.
From the get-go, we can infer that things won’t go as planned, given how riskily Angela funded the impending trip. She used all of her and Jessie’s accrued rent money and has reasoned that, by getting the both of them long shifts every day of the week at the restaurant, they’ll be fine. But fine things will not be. Over the course of Never Goin’ Back, the pals will get robbed, arrested, and accidentally high at the worst possible time. Developments that will, undoubtedly, make post-Galveston life a living hell. All will climax in a botched, desperate attempt at a stick-up to make ends meet.
Not one smart decision is made in Never Goin’ Back, but it’s the overarching, unsaid heart-over-head mantra that makes the film, which premiered in January at the Sundance Film Festival, such a likable, all-out gambol. It’s set in the present day and is comprehensively slummy, but it feels like the kind of old-fashioned farce in which someone akin to Goldie Hawn might’ve starred in the 1970s. This is the type of balls-out comedy where the worse things get, the funnier things become.
Never Goin’ Back could be grating, given how abidingly fatuous these fuck-ups of characters are. But Frizzell finds the humanity in the bad decisions and the gross-out gags. Underneath it all, these people, who aren’t necessarily unlucky because they bring on so much of their misfortune on themselves, are just trying to make life worth living. The ultimate missive here is that everything can seem better than it actually is when you have a friend by your side. Here, the platitude, however tired, rings true. Mitchell and Morrone, who are fantastic here, are both charismatic and plausible as life-long friends who could suffer through anything together and still want to smoke a bowl at the end of the day. B+