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“You are I are going on this trip,” says one fledgling but comfortably stoned almost-17 year-old to another in Augustine Frizzell’s debut feature Never Goin’ Back. “And we’re going to kiss some motherfucking dolphins, smoke some motherfucking ganja, and eat some motherfucking donuts.” The trip in question is a weekend getaway to the beaches of Galveston, Texas. The stoner teens are Angela and Jessie, best friends, roommates and colleagues who may or may not kiss the dolphins but will surely smoke the ganja.
Never Goin’ Back, indie distributor A24’s new mumblecore, millennial buddy comedy, stars newcomers Maia Mitchell and Camila Morrone as the aforementioned besties, a word that doesn’t sufficiently describe the depths of their kinship – even if it’s what they’d call themselves. The two live together; watch porn together; light up together; rail lines of coke together; draw dicks on each other’s faces; attempt amateur heists; and wait tables at the Buttermilk Cafe, where they’re loading up on shifts so they can afford that weekend trip to Galveston to celebrate Jessie’s 17th. There’s not much more to the plot than that, but it works precisely because of its slightness: for these freewheeling, high-school dropouts, a weekend on the Gulf coast is a sojourn of Eat, Pray, Love proportions, and they’ve already blown next month’s rent to make it happen.
There’s a romantic seediness to the film, which avoids condescending its subjects or trafficking in Gen-Z tropes while still ringing true. Jessie’s brother Dustin, a kind of wannabe Lil Peep, sells weed and talks with what he seems to think are gangster affects. Jessie and Angela, meanwhile, speak the jargon of the iGeneration – “I will literally die” and “boujee-ass vacation” and “What the fuck is a collect call?” – but are not the 2000s babies you read about in Refinery29 money diaries. They’re a clever, slightly bemused, quasi-industrious duo, as committed to one another as they are weed, donuts, and mild juvenile delinquency. In Mitchell, one sees traces of Emma Stone, particularly her early work like Superbad and Easy-A. The 21-year-old Morrone, affixed with a bronzed scowl, brings to mind the devil-may-care cool of Emma Roberts.
Frizzell, who’s given her young actors a smart, acid-tongued screenplay to work with, is just as savvy a director, resisting the urge to freshen up the film’s harsh environs with sepia-tones and sunlight. Set mostly in strip malls, diners and dilapidated apartment complexes in the American south, Never Goin’ Back evokes some of A24’s most critically acclaimed releases – like Moonlight and The Florida Project – plus more obvious thematic analogs like Spring Breakers and Gia Coppola’s Palo Alto. But Frizzell doesn’t give her film quite as much of an arty polish, perhaps because much of it’s pulled from her own plucky teenage years in north Texas and a similar short film, of the exact same name, that preceded this one.
But naturalism, even when stylized, comes with a cost. And about two-thirds of the way through Never Goin’ Back, Frizzell seems to have wanted to pre-empt accusations of plotlessness by making too much happen in the final act, a natural if counterintuitive reflex when a film’s pleasures have less to do with action than atmosphere. An unnecessary subplot involving Dustin and his bros collides with Jessie and Angela, who have managed to make a royal mess of their clothing, bank accounts, and vacation plans. Mitchell and Morrone possess such a natural rapport that it’s fun to watch them mess up. But the same can’t be said of Dustin and his buddies Brandon and Cedric, the gang of misfits who orbit around them.
Watching Never Goin’ Back, it’s easy to see the frames of reference Frizzell pulled from, besides her own teenage escapades. But the film also defies easy categorization; it’s not consistently funny enough to be a comedy, nor lively enough to be a drama. Moreover, its two leads are not characters we see on film all that often: young women, in financially precarious terrain, who are dictated not by men or professional ambition or big-city dreams or parental pressures but by their hedonistic whims: pot, donuts, bikinis, the beach. Men, of literally all ages, have been following those exact whims on screen for decades. Which is why Never Goin’ Back, despite clear influences in both style and tone, feels so fresh.
- Never Goin’ Back is released in the US on 3 August with a UK date yet to be announced
Source: The Guardian
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