Directed by Augustine Frizzell
Starring Maia Mitchell, Camila Morrone, Kyle Mooney
Running time: 1 hours 25 minutes
MPAA Rating: R
By Francis Friel, The Projectionist
Augustine Frizzell’s Never Goin’ Back is the sweatiest, shittiest, dopiest, most rambling new hangout movie of the year. And I mean sweaty and shitty as in - yeah, this movie has a lot of sweaty people in it and they talk a lot about shit. And shitting. And they are all pretty fuckin’ dopey. If that turns you off right away, just go ahead and keep walking because it only gets worse. In fact, the movie sets up a sort of Chekhov’s Gun early on, the payoff to which… yeesh, I’m not even going to get into it. But I loved it. I loved every single minute of Never Goin’ Back. I don’t look forward to hearing all the reasons why people don’t like - or even hate - this movie. Fuck that. It’s like arguing that Jackass or Lana Del Rey or the Transformers movies aren’t art because you don’t like whatever it is you think they are. They’re not for everybody. But Never Goin’ Back has more in common with all those things than it does with Harmony Korine or Greg Mottola or whatever else people are comparing it to.
It’s frustrating that this movie will probably come and go without most people knowing it exists. I have no idea what kind of marketing the film is getting in major cities - I’m still stuck in Asheville, a town that routinely gets movies weeks or even months late sometimes - but around here we have one poster up at my theater that I hung in the lobby weeks ago and that no one even asks about. That’s annoying!
It’s a good movie! Maia Mitchell and Camila Marrone are amazing in this motherfucker, with better chemistry than I’ve seen from most other onscreen pairs this year. They own the screen and run circles around the rest of the movie, which is impressive because everyone is great here. Kyle Mooney is getting the most attention since he’s the most well-known to mainstream audiences and his scenes (specifically his role in the finale) are in fact pretty memorable, but the entire cast stands out in the little bits we get from them. It’s a non-stop parade of idiots but it’s no confederacy of dunces. The entire gang are all out to get it for themselves and fuck over as many people as possible to make their “dreams” come true. Everyone except for Mitchell and Marrone - as Angela and Jessie - who band together to try to actually get something done.
What they want to do is go to the beach. Angela surprised Jessie with a rental in Galveston - “a shithole,” as everyone but the girls calls it - and spent all their rent money to do it. No problem! She’s also lined up ten shifts for them at the diner so they’ll definitely get the money back in time. But as always in movies like this (and in life) you can never rely on fate, the universe, or literally any other people in the world to make anything work to any real kind of efficiency. So things go wrong almost immediately.
If all you’ve seen is the trailer, you might be imagining that Never Goin’ Back is the story of two teenage girls who quit their jobs, run away from their dumpy little town and start a new adventure. It’s actually not that. Not quite. It’s essentially plotless, with side missions and tangential events building to an ending that feels earned even for all the incredibly convoluted bullshit it took to get there. And it feels honest. It’s just two sweaty girls walking around their sweaty town, getting drunk and high and stumbling from one encounter to the next. Ironically - or not, depending on your point of view - they’re still always the most with-it characters in any given scene. All except for one brief but extended sequence where they are way, wayyyyyy too high.
The film also employs the great stylistic trick of cutting away to quick, fast-paced flashbacks or mini-montages to illustrate the girls’ inner minds by way of some past behavior. These were usually the funniest moments of the movie, getting a lot of information across very effectively while giving us a glimpse at just how far these two are willing to go to get what they want. The other joke being that the things they want are usually not worth all the trouble, as in the time they chugged gallons of milk or let themselves be eaten alive by mosquitoes to fake chicken pox, both so they could call out of work that day. It’s also smart that all of that does indeed pay off later in a “do they know we’re high?” scene that we’ve seen a million times before but that still works because of how the script, direction, and acting all come together perfectly for that little moment to get the girls and the story where they need to go.
So do they make it to the beach? Do they pay their rent? It’s a movie so packed with incident that the answers don’t really matter in any grander sense. They’re not trying to save the world, but their own world is definitely in need of saving. It’s a story where a lot goes wrong in a surprisingly short amount of time, but if you’ve ever lived through a hot summer with roommates you don’t really like all while trying to call out of work but still make enough money for rent while also figuring out how to stay drunk and high all the time while you also already spent all your money on a trip to the beach that’s coming up in a few weeks… well, this movie’s for you.
It’s a love letter to nothing. It’s not about growing up, it’s not about learning anything valuable. But it’s a great, scrappy little movie about friendship and survival, particularly for young women. Sure, they’re of a certain age and in a certain place and time, but much of what they go through is pretty universal, from simply being underestimated to the casual harassment - sexual and otherwise - that women deal with all day every day. That’s all there, sure. But at its heart, it’s about one girl who really wants to get to work on time and her best friend who really has to take a dump. That’s it. And it’s one of the best films of the summer.