never goin' back review

Cinematic comedy has a long history of men being idiots. Of men making mistakes. Of men getting in over their heads. Of men being deadbeat losers who make a series of increasingly poor decisions and whose lives spiral into chaotic, raunchy anarchy. Of men, despite giving us every reason to disregard them, ultimately winning our affection.

What Never Goin’ Back does is take a long hard look at a familiar comedic template and ask, “But what if ladies?” And then it does it better than just about everyone else.

If Bridesmaids helped open the door for women to get involved with Judd Apatow’s unique brand of humane raunch, Never Goin’ Back smashes the gates to a darker, more twisted and psychotic comedic landscape. In her feature debut, writer/director Augustine Frizzell blasts an air horn in the face of good taste, pees on your best rug, and smokes all of your best weed. And you still want to give her movie a big ol’ hug because it never loses sight of letting you fall for the lovely, wholly believable, and bizarrely likable morons at the center of the action.

Set in a small Texas town that has seen better days, Never Goin’ Back follows two low-income teenage besties with one goal: they’re going to the beach in a week. They’re going to Galveston. Who cares if they spent their rent money to make it happen! They’ll work some extra shifts at the diner. And then things go wrong. And then they go spectacularly wrong. And then they go morbidly, hands-over-eyes, “please stop before someone gets hurt” wrong. This is a movie about a situation wildly escalating out of control…but it literally begins with their home being robbed and them being arrested. That’s where it starts. To say more would only prepare you for the cringe. This is a cringe you don’t want to be ready for.

Is it reductive to reduce a filmmaker down to the other artists whose work strikes similar chords? Maybe. But Never Goin’ Back recalls the work of a handful of specific filmmakers.

I thought about Richard Linklater, another Texas filmmaker with a keen eye for the state’s weirder, more off-kilter corners. I thought about him as Never Goin’ Back ambled from situation to situation, from predicament to predicament. This is very much a hangout movie, a film where plot is secondary to spending time with a group of people as they go about their day. Our best friends over these somehow equally lethargic and hectic days are Angela (Maia Mitchell) and Jessie (Camila Morrone), 17-year-olds attached at the hip and for good reason: you simply can’t imagine these two not being best friends forever. The chemistry between Angela and Jessie feels impossibly, uncomfortably real, a testament to the performances from Mitchell and Morrone. They’re self-destructive, lazy, irresponsible, and whirlwinds of chaos…but they’re also sweet, clever, and always looking out for one another. In other words, they’re only human. Forgive them their transgressions.

I thought about Sean Baker, another filmmaker with an interest in low-income communities and the colorful characters who inhabit the fringes of society. Like Tangerine and The Florida Project, Never Goin’ Back is very much a portrait of a specific place, and not one you’ll be hankering to visit. But that doesn’t make it feel any less like home, nor does it make the cast of characters who live here feel any less like your buddies. Angela and Jessie are our tour guides, but the film is packed with lively characters. There’s the older brother with his gang of amateur screw-ups. There’s the pervert roommate with the convenient gig at the sandwich shop. There’s the friend who throws parties at his g-maw’s house and probably should label his marijuana-laced cookies better. These people get on your last nerve. You want to shout at them and scream at them. And then you want to chill out with them because hey, they’re just going to be themselves and you might as well join in. There’s an authenticity to these morons that rings true, a suggestion that they’re better people trapped within an environment that asks so little of them. Spending time with them is a hoot. A sad, sad hoot.

I thought about Jody Hill, the acidic filmmaker behind Observe and Report, Eastbound & Down, and Vice Principals, and how his comedy punches below the belt and draws blood. Never Goin’ Back is screamingly funny and relentless in its crudeness. It wallows with its characters, who are so used to the gutter that they wouldn’t know where else to go. Frizzell stages one of the best pot jokes of all time, one involving a killer needle drop and a bunch of pancakes. She finds ways to top even the raunchiest comedies out there, setting a new standard for vomit and shit jokes. Never Goin’ Back is a relaxed hangout movie until it isn’t, unleashing the raunch with a firehose. There’s something thrilling about its willingness to disgust, to allow its heroines to plummet to the grotesque lows of so many male comedians. As things get worse and more unstable, the film demands that we stay on board with these lovely idiots as they make every single incorrect decision they could possible make. The film’s refusal to punish them stands out – tomorrow is another day and maybe, just maybe, they’ll learn something and get better. Probably not. But then again, there’s always next week.

Comedies are rarely this gross and this sweet, this deranged and this honest, this wild and this chill. And even rarer is one starring women from a female filmmaker, a cast and crew capable of melding gross-out and hang-out with a uniquely feminine spin. While it may be reductive to describe Frizzell’s obvious talents by comparing her to three male filmmakers, perhaps that’s the best way to sum up how special this film is. It refuses to be just one thing. It’s an all-you-can-eat buffet of desperation and sweetness. And shit. So much shit.

/Film Rating: 9 out of 10

A24 will release Never Goin’ Back later this year.

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About the Author

Jacob Hall is the managing editor of /Film, with previous bylines all over the Internet. He lives in Austin, Texas with his wife, his pets, and his board game collection.