Never Goin’ Back takes a sitcom-esque premise and actually shapes it into a viable movie.
Unlike many similar ventures it does have enough narrative material to work with, but it’s an awkward concoction. Never Goin’ Back is somewhat like a female-fronted Superbad; it juxtaposes saccharine sentimentality with crude jokes and occasional gross-out comedy and hopes that the two stick together. In this case they mostly don’t, but there’s merit to each strand in isolation.
By focussing on a pair of apparently parentless teenage high school dropouts, Frizzell draws attention to the underrepresented, often demonised fringes of mainstream American society. But this is no Florida Project; Never Goin’ Back always feels somewhat unhinged from reality and actual lived experience due to the screenplay’s painful tryhard edgyiness.
The treatment of the girls’ sexuality is also troubling. They are physically affectionate but the dialogue’s intimations that they are sexual partners as well as friends feel too much like sniggering, winkingly ironic fulfilment of the seedy male characters’ clichéd fantasies. Such figures again recall Superbad, but Never Goin’ Back’s character studies could have done with a higher dose of self-awareness.
The final act has a pacy comedic momentum, with the film’s funniest jokes coming thicker and faster. Here Frizzell does the best job of combining the conflicting tones and intentions that jostle uncomfortably for much of the runtime. A series of humorous and unexpected callbacks to moments that only seemed incidental prove Frizzell a shrewd and smart plotter. Never Goin’ Back ends on a bum note however, with an unconvincing fulfilment of the girls’ scheme that just feels thoroughly sad.
Never Goin’ Back could have been either a funnier comedy or a better drama engaging with a neglected slice of Americana. Instead it’s a mildly entertaining mishmash featuring standout performances and well-timed music cues.
CAST: Maia Mitchell, Camila Morrone, Kyle Mooney, Aristotle Abraham II
DIRECTOR: Augustine Frizzell
WRITER: Augustine Frizzell
SYNOPSIS: Jessie and Angela, high school dropouts, are taking a week off to chill at the beach. Too bad their house got robbed, rent’s due, they’re about to get fired, and they’re broke.