It’s nothing new to see a coming-of-age picture wherein a couple of bright-eyed teens have dreams that far outstretch the confines of their dull, suburban lives. But as we are reminded time and time again, through the right lens, tired tropes can always be dusted off and made new. Caught somewhere between Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion, Dude, Where’s My Car?, and the sprawling examinations of Richard Linklater, Never Goin’ Back constantly makes its familiar premise feel fresh, announcing budding director Augustine Frizzell as a cinematic presence to keep an eye on.
Benefitting from its ambiguous backstory, the film follows Angela (Maia Mitchell, The Fosters) and Jessie (Camila Morrone, Death Wish), two Texas teens who are shackled to a small town, bussing tables at the local diner. Having no prospects to speak of and not much in the way of real ambition, the duo plan to raise a little money so they can finance a weekend getaway to the beaches of Galveston. Their schemes result in an utterly charming comedy of errors, however, as their troubles are only exacerbated by the unmitigated short-sightedness of adolescence.
Arguably Augustine Frizzell’s chief asset as a storyteller is her extended efforts to grant a great deal of benevolence to her characters, exuding seemingly boundless empathy for them even as they continuously get in their own way and make the kind of poor life choices that seem so tempting when you’re a teenager. Never Goin’ Back certainly doesn’t let them off the hook, but it also doesn’t scold them for their desire to enjoy their youth to the fullest. Still, Frizzell’s lively script never settles for easily defined character arcs or tidy resolutions. Even at its most absurd, it is first and foremost a deeply recognizable slice of life film.
Although it tackles an unmistakable melancholy at its core, the film hides its sentimentality underneath the shell of a gross out comedy, never feeling ordinary. Somehow, Frizzell rises above the clichés, managing to both breathe new life into the ubiquitous drug trip sequence and use diarrhea as a logical plot point. A24 continues to cement their prestigious title as they win over critics each awards season, but it’s all too refreshing to see that they aren’t above making a raucous – albeit tasteful – teen sex comedy. Even so, it remains on brand for the indie distribution juggernaut, as Frizzell zeroes in on the joie de vivre of adolescence, rather than simply being vulgar for the sheer shock factor.
Daringly funny and bursting with personality, Never Goin’ Back gracefully capitalizes on Frizzell’s unabashed confidence, resulting in a raunchy, screwball debut that is sure to soon be on heavy rotation in door rooms across the nation. Even through its wacky circumstances, the film captures the myriad cocktail of teenage emotion with a expressly sympathetic and keenly observant eye. Frizzell is clearly drawing from personal experience, and it pays off in spades. Let’s hope she continues to craft stories with this much care and attention.