SXSW Review: ‘NEVER GOIN’ BACK’ – a love letter for teen rebellion

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Preston Barta // Features Editor

NEVER GOIN’ BACK

Not yet rated, 86 minutes.
Director: Augustine Frizzell
Cast: Maia MitchellCamila MorroneJoel AllenKendal SmithMatthew Holcomb and Kyle Mooney
Releases Aug. 3.

AUSTIN – Since there have been teenagers, there have been adults trying to control them. Teens rebel. It’s in their nature. I can remember that stage in my life vividly. Memories of my youth in revolt is something I’m not exactly proud of. By engaging in cigarettes, vandalism, sneaking out and disturbing the peace, it was my hope to break away from the pigeonholed persona that we all are miserably trying to conform to.

Dallas filmmaker Augustine Frizzell recognizes the complexities of growing up and that need to upset the established order and, well, live. She shapes these thematic elements into a highly entertaining, thoughtful and measured snapshot of today’s youth culture, titled NEVER GOIN’ BACK. Through the story of two teenage girls we are able live vicariously and project ourselves on screen, as well as identify with the comedy, devastation and truth that comes with growing up in such a pressured society.

Our protagonists are made up by Angela (Maia Mitchell) and Jessie (Camila Morrone), two high school dropouts who waitress at a low-key Denny’s type of breakfast diner. They live with Jessie’s drug-dealing brother, Dustin (Joel Allen and a wispy mustache), and embrace a free-spirited lifestyle. This includes staying up late, smoking weed and fantasizing about life somewhere else other than the small Texas town they inhabit. (Trivia: The film was shot in and around Garland and Fort Worth.)

One morning, Angela surprises Jessie with plans of a Galveston beach trip. The problem is, however, Murphy’s Law keeps knocking at their door. Their house is robbed, they’re struggling to pay the bills, and their tardiness at work and alcohol-scented uniforms aren’t doing them any favors. The question of whether or not they overcome these obstacles is the fun of the movie.

Dallas filmmaker Augustine Frizzell, director of ‘Never Goin’ Back,’ an official selection at the 2018 South by Southwest Film Festival. Atheena Frizzell

It sounds like a very simple premise, but this is one of those rare movies where writing, acting and directing come together and create something special. NEVER GOIN’ BACK isn’t a narrative that completely hinges on its plot. There are no dramatic twists or turns that keep this film from capturing a moment in time that rings true. It’s just two bad-to-the-bone ladies who are raising cain, letting some air out of the balloon and on a quest for identity.

Along with Frizzell’s witty screenplay and electric directing style (editing that mirrors the beat of its hip-hop soundtrack), the performances provide much of the flavor. The film relies heavily on its talent, and they deliver in spades. Morrone’s ongoing bit about her inability to go No. 2 anywhere but her house drives up the comedy, as does Mitchell’s endless list of insults.

Supporting roles, such as the comically gifted Kendall Smith and Matthew Holcomb as Dustin’s friends, also greatly contribute to the live laugh track. A dance-off scene in the backyard, with the fellas essentially making love to the floor, and one gag about their undying love for the 1988 movie BEACHES will have you in stitches.

If you really want to understand NEVER GOIN’ BACK, think back to your own days of adolescence. The film made me want to dig out my journals of angsty poems and reacquaint myself with who I was then, when I felt things a little more deeply. Frizzell’s film doesn’t exist for high school kids as the plot might suggest. Why would they need it? They live there. It exists for all the people have already been through it and feel above it. It’s here so we can remember what it was like and to better understand ourselves. As funny and entertaining as it is to send our smiles towards the actors on screen, NEVER GOIN’ BACK establishes a bridge between the you today and the you then. It’s great.

[Grade: B]

NEVER GOIN’ BACK has its final encore screening at the South by Southwest Film Festival on Friday at 2 p.m. at the Alamo Drafthouse on Lamar in Austin. For ticket and screening details, visit sxsw.com.

FEATURED IMAGE: Maia Mitchell, left, and Camila Morrone portray two high school dropouts trying to escape their structured lives for a beach vacation. Courtesy of A24.

About author

Preston Barta

Hello, there! My name is Preston Barta, and I am the features editor of Fresh Fiction and senior film critic at the Denton Record-Chronicle. My cinematic love story began where I was born: off planet on the isolated desert world of the Jakku system. It's there I passed the time scavenging for loose parts with my good friend Rey. One day I found an old film projector and a dusty reel of the 1975 film JAWS. It rocked my world so much that I left my kinfolk in the rearview (I so miss their morning cups of green milk) to pursue my dreams of writing about film. It wasn't long until I met two gents who said they would give me a lift. I can't recall their names, but one was an older man who liked to point a lot and the other was a tall, hairy fella. They got me as far as one of Jupiter's moons where we crossed paths with the U.S.S. Enterprise. Some pointy-eared bastard said I was clear to come aboard. He saw that I was clutching my beloved shark movie and invited me to the "moving pictures room" where he was screening the 1993 film JURASSIC PARK to his crew. He said my life would be much more prosperous if I were familiar with more work by the god named Steven Spielberg. From there, my love for cinema blossomed. Once we reached planet Earth, everything changed. I found the small town of Denton, TX, and was welcomed into the Barta family. They showed me the writings of local film critic Boo Allen. He became my hero and caused me to chase a degree in film and journalism. After my studies at graduate of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, I met some film critics who showed me the ropes and got me into my first press screening: 2011's THE GREEN LANTERN. Don't worry; I recovered just fine. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD was only four years away.