Never Goin' Back (United States, 2018)

August 10, 2018
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Never Goin' Back Poster

Watching Never Goin’ Back, I wasn’t sure whether this was intended to be a slice-of-life comedy, a coming of age drama, or a horror film. Since the first two don’t really apply – it’s not nearly as funny as it thinks it is and the characters never evolve – I settled on “horror.” As a representation of a segment of today’s disaffected, entitled youth, there is indeed something profoundly terrifying about Never Goin’ Back. Following the drug-addled misadventures of two 16-year old girls, Angela (Maia Mitchell) and Jessie (Camila Morrone), Augustine Frizzell’s debut forces us to spend nearly 90 minutes in the company of two unbearably dumb protagonists. Watching the slow-motion train wreck of their lives is an exercise in frustration. It’s supposed to be a screwball comedy but someone forgot to include the laughs.

The girls, who are best friends/roommates, have problems, not the least of which is living with two loser housemates, Brandon (Kyle Mooney) and Dustin (Joel Allen) – the latter of whom is Jessie’s brother. They’re scheduled to work double shifts at the local pancake house so they can pay for a week’s vacation to Galveston but fate intervenes when they’re arrested for drug possession and, after their release, they get stoned into a near-vegetative state before begging their boss for their jobs back. Meanwhile, with little prospect of being able to make the rent, they resign themselves to life on the streets or (worse) a forced exile to Arkansas. With a pattern of existence that could have been modeled after Martin Scorsese’s After Hours, the two devise a criminal plan that relies on the horniness of a twenty-something loner (a good bet) and the belief that a fast food joint’s cash register holds a lot of money (not such a good bet).

The problem with Never Goin’ Back isn’t that Frizzell takes the film in dark, twisted directions but that the screenplay isn’t confident enough to avoid falling back on tired gross-out “comedic” tropes like copious vomit, gas and diarrhea, and various olfactory assaults. Despite strong performances by Maia Mitchell (an Australian-born actress with a huge TV resume) and Camila Morrone (who recently played Bruce Willis’ daughter in the Death Wish remake), both of whom are really good, their alter-egos are nothing short of repugnant. Spending this much time in their presence isn’t pleasant despite the flippant, devil-may-care tone.

The girls’ most prominent characteristic is their complete and utter self-absorption. They deflect criticism and expend great amounts of energy avoiding consequences. They’ve probably never heard the term “karma” and, if they did, they wouldn’t understand its meaning. They are shallow. Their lifestyle is superficial. Frizzell is able to use this advantageously for about 20 minutes by creating an atmosphere of high-energy, addled chaos that’s appealing until we start to realize there’s nothing deeper going on. The movie settles into a routine of sex and poop jokes, drug-fueled binges, bad behavior, and stagnation.

I will admit that Never Goin’ Back stayed with me longer than many throw-away comedies. Three things could account for that: Frizzell’s forceful aesthetic, Mitchell and Morrone’s chemistry, and the film’s depressing statement about a generation’s attitudes and priorities. Nevertheless, there aren’t enough laughs to justify the loss of 85 precious minutes that you’ll never get back.

Never Goin' Back (United States, 2018)

Director: Augustine Frizzell
Cast: Maia Mitchell, Camila Morrone, Kyle Mooney, Joel Allen
Home Release Date: 2018-10-30
Screenplay: Augustine Frizzell
Cinematography: Greta Zozula
Music: Sarah Jaffe
U.S. Distributor: A24
Run Time: 1:26
U.S. Release Date: 2018-08-03
MPAA Rating: "R" (Profanity, Sexual Content, Drugs)
Genre: Drama/Comedy
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1