Tag Archives: C+

NEVER GOIN’ BACK

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

C+

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.

GENERATION WEALTH

Producer: Frank Evers, Lauren Greenfield and Wallis Annenberg
Director: Lauren Greenfield
Writer: Lauren Greenfield
Stars: 
Studio: Amazon Studios

C+

Materialism is bad and money can’t buy happiness. That’s essentially the message of “Generation Wealth,” and if it’s hard to disagree with the thrust of Lauren Greenfield’s documentary, it also becomes questionable when she pivots from that major theme to question the relative value of any interest which might play a major role in a person’s life, perhaps to the point of becoming an obsession. When she turns to examining her own past choices, one might be tempted to say: yes, perhaps your drive to document the phenomena you find so intriguing has led you to spend less time with your two charming sons than you might have done, but are you suggesting that the world would be a better place if the many great artists, thinkers, composers and writers who did, in fact, neglect their families had made time for breakfast and playtimes with the kids to the detriment of their work?

That’s a thorny issue, but so long as Greenfield sticks to showing the absurdity of people’s single-minded lust for monetary success, celebrity and possessions, you can certainly go along with her point. It’s one that she’s made before, of course, perhaps most notably in her previous film “The Queen of Versailles,” about David and Jacqueline Siegel, a Florida couple whose tasteless effort to build a monstrous mansion patterned after Louis XIV’s royal estate came crashing down after the 2008 economic collapse. For Greenfield the episode represented the grotesque perversion of the American Dream, not because it ended in financial ruin but because of the spirit of mindless acquisitiveness and ostentation that drove it in the first place.

The Siegels reappear briefly here as part of the warning against the profligate materialism they represented in the earlier picture, and so do others whom Greenfield has used as subjects in the past. She revisits, for example, some of the rich young people whom she photographed living heedless lives two decades ago for her 1997 book “Fast Forward,” and not surprisingly, finds that the opulence they flaunted them hardly guaranteed them success or happiness. Some have emerged “in a better place,” psychologically, but learning hard lessons is still painful to look back on.

And there are new examples brought forward to amplify the message. Many are women: one who becomes so obsessed with the potential of plastic surgery that she spends everything she has, and virtually ignores her own daughter, on treatment, or another who devotes herself completely to her Wall Street job until she realizes that the biological clock is running out on having a child of her own, and a third whose career in the adult film world brought notoriety rather than fame (and whose story leads to a more generalized observation on the objectification of women in the sex industry).

But there is also Florian Homm, a German wheeler-dealer who made a fortune before being charged with crimes against the rules of financial regulation that led him to go into hiding before he was identified and brought to trial. He now expounds profusely on the error of his ways, even talking about how he once procured the services of a hooker for his inexperienced teen son—a reminiscence made more pointed by Greenfield’s juxtaposition of it with footage of the now-grown son wincing at the memory as his girlfriend looks on.

Greenfield adds chapters of wider scope, such as that dealing with Iceland’s economic collapse, brought about by corrupt banking processes not unlike the shady practices of American institutions in the housing bubble of the early 2000s. But even here the story is given a personal spin through the voice of a fisherman lured into banking by the prospect of big bucks, only to return to the sea chastened after the banks went under and his job disappeared. Segments also touch on the process of globalization of the materialist impulse in post-Soviet Russia and post-Mao China.

All of this material makes the intended point, and sometimes—not always, as it’s hard to empathize with people like the Siegels or Homm, whose business practices seem dodgy from the get-go—it elicits a feeling a sympathy for the misguided souls enticed by the prospect of money and fame beyond their wildest dreams (or needs). When those dreams turn into nightmares, it’s difficult not to feel sorry for those who suffer the effects, however silly one might think their actions.

When Greenfield turns the camera on herself and her family, however, she seems to be straining after a degree of self-understanding that fits uneasily with her thesis about materialism. She certainly shows a great deal of affection for her husband, and for her sons, who admit that her absences on photographic work were at times hard to take, but appear to have grown up as bright, well-adjusted and generally happy anyway. And when she interviews her parents, who in the pattern of the time encouraged their daughter to strive for the best, the result comes off even more uncertain, even a tad cruel. That’s especially the case when she puts her mother on the spot about her devotion to anthropological work, which often took her on extended expeditions to exotic locales. (As home movies show, Lauren sometimes accompanied her, which helped stimulate her career as a documentarian.) The implication of generational blame here seems a stretch, particularly if one applies it more broadly to those of the most extraordinary levels of talent and accomplishment.

So Greenfield’s depiction of the uber-materialism of today’s world is compelling, if rather obvious, but her attempt to extrapolate from that portrait of unfettered excess to a broader thesis about responsibility to family feels simplistic.