Sundance London Film Festival 2018 Review: Never Goin’ Back

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Director: Augustine Frizzell

R | 1h 25min | Drama | 3 August 2018 (USA, UK date TBC)

Rating: ★★★☆☆

Playing Sundance London 2018

Buzzed BFFs are the order of the day in writer/director Augustine Frizzell’s scrappy, uneven, but ultimately winning debut feature. It is a film that is sustained by the irresistible, irrepressible duo at its heart, and by the appeal of seeing the typical stoner bro movie repurposed for the female perspective. Females who are determined to not give an inch, shamelessly thrown various narcotics down their throats or up their noses, take enemies off at the knees with volleys of profanity, and remain sweetly committed to each other throughout.

Once their alarm clock blazes one muggy morning, things start going wrong pretty quickly for BFFs Angela (Maia Mitchell) and Jessie (Cami Morrone).  These two late-teen high school dropouts, so breadline they have to share a bed in Jessie’s intellectually-challenged jock brother’s scabby suburban Dallas apartment, finally seem to have a chance to catch a break from their dead-end waitressing jobs in the same crappy diner. With childish glee, Angela drops the surprise on a sleepy and disbelieving Jessie that their dream vacation to sunny Galveston, Texas, is ON. In fact, it is only a few shifts away. Angela has booked them a beach cabin, and got a great discount online. The catch? She used up their rent money to pay for it, trusting their bosses’ word that enough shifts will be there to beforehand cover the advance payment. Right away, alarm bells are ringing in our heads. When a movie character assumes money will be there, chances are fate is going to take a different view. Angela and Jessie have a believable argument about how irresponsible this is, but actress Maia Mitchell really invests Jessie with so much charm you can imagine wilting under her enthusiasm. Cami Morrone’s character comes off in the first act as the slightly more responsible of the two (Jessie is really not convinced this beach idea is a good one, but gives in), but Frizzell’s script never simplifies this relationship to an enabler/manipulated dynamic even as a shopping list of darkly funny, twisted disasters spin out of this one decision by Angela to cut loose.

And boy do things go wrong. Jessie probably should have guessed that that business venture her brother Brandon (Kyle Mooney) was babbling about was, in fact, an attempt to set up a drug deal. The deal resulted in a hold-up, which meant Brandon’s own share of the rent has gone bye-bye. Then their apartment gets invaded in a hilariously chaotic scene by one of Brandon’s own dimwitted ‘crew’ who wants his share of the fronted cash back, which results in cops searching the place, only to find Jessie and Angela’s somewhat substantial supply of the good stuff strewn all over their room—and they have to serve a short stint in juvenile detention. With two days worth of shifts at work due to be missed, their beach trip is in serious jeopardy and they’ll have to use every bit of guile to make the rent money back. A ‘get the cash in 24 hours’ plot is now seriously underway, but what makes Jessie and Angela’s mini-adventure so alternately funny and actually quite tense is the fact that their plans run parallel with them getting continuously buzzed, which doesn’t result in quite the mindset you need to make some money quickly…and legally. You keep wondering which of them is going to accept that casual party invite, drop a tab of something they shouldn’t, or lose their temper at just the moment things are looking up so everything goes to hell just when a path to salvation was about to open up. Jessie and Angela are their own worst enemies, but their affection for each other and their sugary/savage take on the world makes them kind of hard to dislike even as they walk towards every landmine in their path.

Frizzell’s film isn’t perfect by any means. You can see more than a few of the car crashes Jessie and Angela get into coming from way off, with some gags being set up way in advance and then playing out exactly as you might expect (one involving the downside of keeping your stools …upside for too long). Some of the characters, particularly those in Brandon’s posse, are fairly standard doofuses who act as you’d expect. Frizzell’s script and the production design show a keen eye for the realities of living one pay check away from disaster in a state and country without a great social security or minimum wage safety net, and this might seem to rub awkwardly against the increasingly zany plot developments as the film goes on, but I actually found this not to be a problem given this story is being told from the perspectives of two women who are stoned to hell by various drugs much of the time and who are sustained both by their own relationship and their DGAF attitude. I personally can’t wait to see what Frizeell and co-stars Mitchell and Morrone do next.

Comment

Owen Van Spall

Greetings. I am a Film History MA graduate from Birkbeck University of London and a trained NCTJ qualified journalist. Apart from a long history of film and news writing for this site and various other publications, I am also a trained photographer with my own camera kit. I write mostly every day. Along the way I have picked up work experience at Sight & Sound, The Guardian, The Independent, The FT, The New Statesman, and more. I have written hard news stories, features, arranged and conducted interviews with celebrities, film directors and other major cultural figures, arranged photo shoots, and covered film festivals, conferences and events in the UK and abroad. If you wish to commission me or enquire about full-time opportunities please find my CV and contact details below. A physical portfolio of print only cuttings can also be provided.