Sundance London 2018 Film Review – Never Goin’ Back (2017)

It’s a familiar concept, the road movie with two friends coping with whatever life throws at them.  So is the more recent stoner movie, with the pair indulging in anything that makes life more exciting, usually drugs.  Writer/director Augustine Frizzell has combined the two for Never Goin’ Back, but it doesn’t always hit the target.

This time it’s two teenage girls, Angela and Jessie (Maia Mitchell and Camila Morrone), high school drop outs who scrape by with dead-end waitressing jobs and live in a house share with assorted mates.  Jessie is about to turn 17, so Angela decides she needs a proper birthday treat, a few days away on the beach.  Sweet.  Except that she’s used the rent money to pay for it.  It doesn’t matter, though, because she’s also arranged lots of extra waitressing shifts for the two of them, so it’s all covered.  What could possibly go wrong?

You know the answer. Inevitably, just about anything and everything – and it all does.  There’s drugs involved, their house is burgled, they’re busted by the cops, they end up in juvenile detention and there’s a bungled robbery.  And yet, to everybody’s surprise, that last little problem doesn’t work out so badly in the end.  But the fact that we can see their misfortunes coming a mile off indicates just how predictable the film is.  The same can be said for the couple motif: we’ve seen it all before in the likes of Harold And Kumar and many, many others.  The only difference here is that it’s two teenage girls: otherwise, it’s not a movie with much new to offer.

Mitchell and Morrone have to carry the majority of the film and, although there’s plenty of swagger and energy in their performances, you never feel you get to know them to any extent.  They’re BFFs, very close and their relationship is the female equivalent of a bromance – is there a word for that? – but their back story is non-existent.  There’s no mention of parents so it’s as if they appear from nowhere.  It also gives the lingering impression that Frizzell is trying just a little bit too hard to flesh out the characters and create the film as a whole.  The humour is strained at times, the pace variable and none of it comes off with anything close to consistency.  The girls themselves start off as endearing, but descent into irritating silliness.

Most of the humour is very much of the toilet variety.  The film’s one big running gag is painfully overdone and it’s a relief when it’s drawn to its inevitable conclusion – and, yes, that pun’s deliberate so that you know what you’re letting yourself in for.  By the time the joke is wrapped up, it really isn’t funny any more, just sigh-inducing.  Perhaps the most amusing scene is when the pair go along for a chat with their boss at the restaurant and are totally stoned out of their minds.

For a film that aims to entertain, Never Goin’ Back falls short, so thank goodness Frizzell had the sense to keep it to just 85 minutes.  Even then, it comes perilously close to outstaying its welcome.  While she may come back to her debut as a learning experience, you’re probably never goin’ back to it.  There just isn’t enough there.

Never Goin’ Back is screened at Sundance London on Friday, 1 June and Sunday, 3 June.

Freda Cooper |

Comedy | 15 | UK release tbc | Dir. Augustine Frizzell| Maia Mitchell, Camila Morrone, Kyle Mooney, Joel Allen and Kendal Smith |

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