Never Goin’ Back, Augustine Frizell’s 2018 debut feature film, had the potential to be one of the best young-adult comedies of the year. Offering punchy, funny and unapologetically crude insights into modern-day sisterhood, it asks what becoming an adult would be like in a world with no prominent adult role models. In this way, it’s almost fantastical – the characters exist very much in a gritty, urban reality, but similar to 2017’s The Florida Project, the environment feels like a playground turned on its head, where its inhabitants run round its confines with enough confidence to make us forget how trapped they really are.
Where the film is least messy is with its beautifully simple concept. It spends two hours fleshing out a basic story of dumb ambition; Angela (Maia Mitchell) and Jessie (Camila Morrone) are best friends and joint high-school-dropouts who both work waitressing jobs at a local diner to pay for half of the apartment they rent together. To celebrate Angela’s birthday, they pitch their rent money into booking a seaside-apartment in Galveston, Texas for one week. As a series of events, caused and inflamed by their own vacuity, begin to spiral out of control, the film has fun examining the friendship the girls share and the reliance each has on the other for motivation, drive and focus. Mitchell and Morrone share an impeccable chemistry here – it feels as though there’s a deep understanding of what the characters require from each other and how their personalities fit into the jigsaw puzzle of their friendship. Watching the girls attempt to figure out whether their boss knows they’re stoned when they turn up to work after a party-gone wrong is a perfect example of this electric connection shared by two actors who have a pretty mature grasp of comedic timing.
When aiming for laughs however, the film doesn’t go for the head – instead, it punches pretty low with a barrage of sexual and drug related humour, situational gags only made funny when tinged with the blind naivety of its characters. It’s not as inventive or as funny, however, as it wishes it was – puerile humour has been done in buddy comedies before, and it’s been done better than this. When it tries to make ludicrous light-heartedness of its plot, an undercurrent of panic at the characters’ situational instability still comes to the fore, making for a confusing watch which no number of raunchy jokes can correct.
The jokes in these scenes, however well written and competently executed, aren’t decorative additions to the film’s plot; rather, they’re the glue in which the story sticks to. When the actual subject matter holds quite a lot of weight (the girls risk prison, unemployment and eviction in three separate sequences), it’s unsatisfying in the least to have the girls’ loveable idiocy fail to grapple or even acknowledge the severity of what’s going on around them, even though it’s evident that Frizell wrote the characters to behave in this way.
Never Goin Back’s perspective, however frustrating, is at least distinct. The surrounding characters all have the combined intelligence of either one of the girls (which is saying something), and as such, watching them be played, conned and tricked feels akin to being in on an inside joke. The film takes a pop at a number of ideologies which conflict with Angela and Jessie’s wish to live drug-addled and free of commitment – one particular scene involving Angela going into a tirade at an elderly man in the supermarket is indicative of just how much these girls have distanced themselves from societal expectations. The lens through which we see the world here is well defined, and that enhances how invested we are in seeing Angela and Jessie reach their end goal of getting to the beach. If only the execution were a little more creative, it would feel less as though we were being taken along on a clumsy ride which occasionally hits the mark, and instead on one with direction, focus and the same confidence as exhibited by its two leads.
Never Goin’ Back is screening at Glasgow Film Theatre on the 15th of September at GYFF. Anyone aged between 15 and 25 can get a free card from GFT that entitles them to £5.50 tickets to any standard screening.
By Maisie McGregor