Never Goin’ Back is a movie bursting with life. Even when the film’s two teenage best friends (played by Maia Mitchell and Camila Morrone) are just tolerating another mundane shift at the diner, there’s still a feeling of joyfulness in Augustine Frizzell‘s feature directorial debut. Even in the story’s most dire or ridiculous situations, the characters manage to keep the good times going, thanks to each other.

There’s a happy-go-lucky, adventurous spirit to Never Goin’ Back, which is based on Frizzell’s own teenage experiences with her best friend. The writer-director looks back on those times fondly and with reflection and, clearly, a lot of laughs. She has a lot of love for her protagonists, which is always evident in the movie. Frizzell recently told us about how close she is to these characters, working with A24, days from the set, and a whole lot more about her comedy, which managing what /Film editor Jacob Hall called “a sweet and raunchy tale of glorious idiocy” in his review.

When did you start writing Never Goin’ Back?

I started that story probably ten years ago. It was basically just stuff that had happened. I mean, I had always kept a journal and kept track of things that had happened to me. But then I started writing it as a short sometime around 2000 … No, maybe not ten years ago, probably like eight years ago. That was around 2010 or so. And then, I just kind of set it aside, but then in 2014, picked it back up and started putting it together and rounding it out a little bit more.

I’m sure you had a lot of memories and stories to tell. Were there ever any very different versions of the story or is the final film close to what you first imagined? 

There were many different versions. There were so many. I remember one, there was just like grocery store heist setting. I mean, we did so many crazy things when I was young. One time we fashioned this little net on the end of this pole and went to this grocery store near where we lived, and we slid it into the pharmacy area there. There was a little crack under the door. Slid it into the pharmacy area, scooped up a bottle of pills, and pulled it back out. [Laughs] We were awful. We were total criminals. We were wreaking havoc, and so yeah, that was in one of the versions, it was a grocery store, we had people looking at. There were so many very variations on this story. It took awhile to get it where it is right now.

Would you ever consider publishing that journal? That’d make a good tie-in. 

I have. Everyone’s suggesting, “I want to know what else you guys did,” and so I’ve thought about it. Maybe one day. I’ve thought about getting with my best friend because she had this incredible list of things we did and all of the people we hitchhiked. She had profiles of each person from back in the day because we had to hitchhike to work when we were living together when we weren’t taking the bus, and this is actually another portion of our lives that she kept track of every person who picked us up hitchhiking. Her and I need to get together and release some sort of memoir, some companion book or something.

Anybody who likes these characters would want to read that. Never GoinBack, it’s a feel good movie about a not very good situation. How early on did you know that tone and feel was right for the story? 

I knew from the very beginning that that’s what I wanted. It’s a really, really hard tone to balance, so it took a while to figure it out. I mean, I still even think about it and I think about it’s my first script and it’s my first feature film, and so there are some things that I feel so I really hit well and others… You know, you wonder why are there no other films about kids with no money and these horrible situations. Why don’t we speak in stories that are funny about them? Their lives are horrible. It’s sad. It’s a bummer. You feel sorry for them and it’s tragic, and so it’s a really hard thing to do.

I knew looking back that even though we had really difficult periods at that point, a lot of sadness and a lot of heartbreak and feeling abandoned and feeling like the world was big and out to get us, despite all that, such a strong bond as friends, my best friend and I. Such a strong bond that we were able to face the world together with a bit more humor. I think I do that in general, see things with more humor. And those are the stories I wanted to show. I didn’t want to see the bummer, ’cause we’ve seen that. And I love those stories too. I love those, you know those heavy teen movies as well. But I just wanted to lighten up.

Right. There’s usually that section of a movie where things go really bad or characters feel punished for their choices. I was happy you didn’t go there. 

Thank you. Because teenagers inherently make bad decisions, all the time. And we know that it’s bad, and we’re gonna be 10 years later looking bad at it and being like, “Why did we do that dumb shit?” But in the moment, we all know these are dumb things that teens do. We don’t have to pass judgment. They’re gonna grow out of it, most likely.

Some of the reactions to that are interesting to me. How some people are reacting to the movie and specifically the characters, it can say more about them than the movie.

Me too. It’s been so eyeopening in a way, and surprising in so many other ways. I had no idea that people would be angry about it. I think a lot of people are angry about it and they’re just like, “Why are these kids doing all this bad stuff and they have no prudence.” And you know, they’re 15, 16, or 17 in the movie, so of course they’re doing dumb shit. It’s funny the way they’re judged. You rarely see teen movies from middle class families being judged so harshly. You rarely see the characters being judged so harshly. I’m never bothered if people don’t think it’s funny, or if they think it’s a little predictable. It may not be your style of humor, and yeah these are stereotypical tropes from super stoner comedies, but as soon as they start judging the characters, it’s really weird.

I’ve talked to some filmmakers before who, when they make a movie this personal or true to their life, they feel more vulnerable and look at the reactions a little different. Has that been the case at all for you? 

I don’t feel … let me think of the right words. It is vulnerable to a certain degree, but only in that it’s a piece of art that I made and put into the world. As far as it being my personal story, and having people judge me for the life that I led, that never bothers me. And it’s weird, and I think that’s- I’ve had a couple people ask me, “How are you so brave to talk about your past?” I’ve never been someone who hid my past or was ashamed of my past. I’ve always spoken openly about it because if there’s anything I’ve learned, being a mom or just being the offspring of people who didn’t open up to me about their past, is that we learn the most by hearing about other people’s experiences.

I have a 19-year-old daughter. She knows everything about my life, and I think that’s helped her learn what not to do, and just see the consequences. And then we have this open conversation, so I find that when I’m open about my life and my past, it allows other people to also be open about their lives and their past. And that’s one of my favorite things. I love hearing about other people. I love hearing their stories. I love learning from other’s experiences and so I never feel bad about being judged for my past. It’s the art. It becomes its own thing. It is based on my life, but it is a whole other separate piece of work now in the world that isn’t my life. It’s a movie that I made.

Well, I just wanted to add, I think the girls are great. 

[Laughs] They’re really cool, right? They’re not too cool for school. I feel like they’re just kind of goofy and fun. I love them. Talking about reviews, I read one like, “You should give them obstacles for these girls to overcome.” I’m like, “So funny.” [Laughs] It just made me laugh so hard at those reviews. It’s like, “Okay…” I don’t feel any woe or sadness over reviews like that. Yeah, those are the things that you put in a movie: you add obstacles for the characters to overcome. It was just so funny. Anyway, as far as liking the girls, I fucking love the girls. I’m obsessed with those characters. I mean, they’re based on me and my life. I like myself pretty well.

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