Populated by magnetic, funny characters, Never Goin’ Back is basically a more realistic Pineapple Express, in all the good and bad ways.
In Augustine Frizzell’s Never Goin’ Back, we follow two best friends, Angela and Jessie (Maia Mitchell and Camilla Morrone), who are determined to celebrate Jessie’s 17th birthday at the beach. But first they have to survive the next few days, because they’ve spent their rent money on the trip, Jessie’s brother spent his rent money buying a pound of weed so he can achieve his dream of becoming a drug dealer, they get robbed, do some robbing, do a lot of drugs, go to juvie, have to wash their work uniforms, and somehow have to make it to work on time for their shift. They’re high school dropouts, they do a lot of drugs, and they work as waitresses, but they deserve this beach trip! They aren’t angels, by any means; in fact, they’re both deeply flawed characters with great chemistry and a really sweet, if codependent, friendship.
Without Mitchell and Morrone’s vibrant chemistry, this would be a very different movie. From moment one, we see their implicit trust of one another, their willingness to sacrifice for one another. This charisma shines readily into the characters of Angela and Jessie, who depend on that vivacity and appeal to get what they want from people. Each one of them could so easily be Halley from The Florida Project, but they’re more like what Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) will probably grow into instead.
Never Goin’ Back is filled with the reckless, entitled, destructive millennial abandon of American Honey, Spring Breakers, and The Florida Project. This leads to a lot of fun, but questionable substance. I’m really unclear as to the ultimate message that first-time writer-director Augustine Frizzell is trying to get across. Our protagonists are utter screwups, with no aspirations beyond the end of the week (and their single goal isn’t incentive enough to actually get their acts together). Reality is often funnier than fiction, and there are some seriously funny moments throughout this film. But at the same time, is she praising or condemning them? Much like those other movies I’ve mentioned, she’s absolutely depicting real people, a section of society that exists. But to what end? It’s much more fun to get high and give the finger to the man than it is to contribute with any meaning to society or to better themselves. Again, the dream of going to the beach is accompanied by nothing more than that – no long-term plan or goals. Just score some cash and get out.
While I am constantly irritated by the main characters and just about every single choice they make, I have to laud Frizzell for gathering such a charismatic, easily watchable cast. The hilarious supporting characters (Joel Allen, Kendal Smith, Matthew Holcomb, and Kyle Mooney) perpetually dream up stupid get rich quick schemes. The B plot is actually more interesting than the girls’ A plot, but both leading girls are like a car accident at which we just can’t help but rubberneck.
Never Goin’ Back has many good comedic moments throughout, and the entire cast makes the film fun to watch, but I’m left wanting more from the film in terms of message. There’s got to be more than we see here. If not, what’s the point in life?