Producer: Toby Halbrooks, James M. Johnson and Liz Cardenas Franke
Director: Augustine Frizzell
Writer: Augustine Frizzell
Stars: Maia Mitchell, Carni Morrone, Kyle Mooney, Joel Allen, Kendal Smith, Matthew Holcomb, Marcus Mauldin, Atheena Frizzell and Raymond Gestaut
Studio: A24 Films
There’s plenty of energy and exuberance in Augustine Frizzell’s debut feature, but it’s all in the service of characters who, to put it charitably, seem more “never goin’ forward” than “never goin’ back.” Essentially this is a girls-gone-wild movie in which the wildness isn’t balanced by any redeeming qualities. It’s unremittingly raunchy and sporadically funny but also, deep down, kind of depressing.
The dynamic duo at the center of the maelstrom are Jessie (Camila Morrone) and Angela (Maia Mitchell), high-school dropouts who are not just BFFs but waitresses—though not terribly reliable ones—at a suburban Dallas diner. (The picture was shot in Garland, the same town that was the model for Arlen in Mike Judge’s “King of the Hill.”) They live in a dumpy rental house with Jessie’s doofus brother Dustin (Joel Allen), who dreams of scoring a big drug deal with his self-styled “squad”—dumb-as-a-box-of-rocks Ryan (Matthew Holcomb) and hotshot “gangsta” type Tony (Kendal Smith).
What the girls dream of is some fun time in Galveston, and so they assure their long-suffering manager Roderick (Marcus Mauldin) that they’ll work extra shifts to earn back the rent money they put up on a beachfront condo. Unfortunately, Dustin’s big score blows up in his face and Tony breaks into the house looking to retrieve his stake in the botched venture, leading to our anti-heroines being arrested when the cops find drugs in their room.
That leads to a forty-eight hour stay in juvie for the girls, and a string of dumb adventures after they’re sprung. A major thread in the admittedly loose plot involves Brandon (Kyle Mooney), Dustin’s horny roommate who’s also a clerk at a sandwich shop, and a loathsome old guy named Dickson (Raymond Gestaut), who excoriates Jessie and Angela in a supermarket and shows up toward the close in an amazing coincidence.
Also a vulgar one, marked by yet another episode of projectile vomiting (there have been others earlier) and some distinctly kinky sexual action (previous sex-related issues have merely been verbal, though highly explicit). There’s also plenty of scatological humor, most notably in a long-running thread about Jessie’s bowel blockage following her stint behind bars, and the ultimate release.
And one has to expect drug gags, particularly via a Cheech-and-Chong sequence in which the girls unwittingly sample a friend’s stash of special brownies at a party before going back to the diner to beg for their jobs back. Needless to say, Roderick, though sympathetic to the pair, can’t see fit to keep them on; but he does offer them some sage advice.
Equally predictable is the fact that they don’t take it, opting instead on a money-making scheme that—in another coincidence—comes up against one formulated by Dustin and his goofy pals. Both flop, but things turn out nicely for the girls anyway (if not for Mr. Dickson), and off they go to Galveston.
Reportedly Frizzell’s script is at least partially autobiographical—she had a rather tempestuous life as a teen, it appears—and one can congratulate her for rising above it and making a home for herself with her husband, talented filmmaker (and executive producer here) David Lowery. And she proves herself more than capable behind the camera herself. Though one might quarrel with aspects of the script, which strives too hard for a “Dazed and Confused” quality, her ear for dialogue reflecting today’s don’t-give-a-damn youth is acute.
She also shows a sure touch with the actors. Mitchell and Morrone persuade you that they are Angela and Jessica, which their parents might not like to hear but is important to the movie working. Allen and Smith are equally convincing as the two main members of the “squad,” while Holcomb and especially Mooney, of SNL, are almost endearingly dopey sidekick types. Gestaut us actually quite terrible as the dirty old man, but he snarls convincingly. On the technical level this is pretty good for a low-budget indie, with Greta Zuzula’s camerawork and the editing by Courtney Ware and Frizzell surprisingly smooth, given all the plot hubbub. The song choices—as well as Sarah Jaff’s score—fit the piece.
“Never Goin’ Back” will do absolutely nothing to convince people not to worry about the country’s future; the young characters portrayed here, in fact, might lead you to conclude that America has pretty much hit rock bottom (though Dickson is no prize, either). But if Frizzell was able to get past her teen misdeeds, maybe Jessie and Angela will too, as unlikely as it seems.