Never Goin’ Back: Always Goin’ Strong, by Scott Nye
Two girls wake up in bed together. One has drawn a penis on the other’s face. She’s also planned a vacation for her soon-to-be-17 companion. Even though they may just be sleeping together out of poverty, they can afford it if they really stack their shifts at the diner. Anyway, it’s already paid for…out of their share of the rent money…which is due next week. And this being the kind of movie where one girl wakes up another by drawing a penis on her face, well, that plan’s not going to come together as cleanly as she envisioned.
With the confidence uncommon in a feature debut, writer/director Augustine Frizzell never declares whether Angela (Maia Mitchell) and Jessie (Camila Morrone) are lovers or merely very close friends drawn closer out of shared poverty. They’re still teenagers, they’ve dropped out of school because their parents have virtually abandoned them, and live with Jessie’s brother, making ends meet, doing drugs, and watching whatever DVDs they have lying around. Frizzell doesn’t see anything tragic about this. They have each other, backing one another absolutely, one hundred percent of the time. The film never does the belabored Best Friend Movie trope of dredging up some years-old hang-up. It has too much fun in store. These are people at a point beyond grudges, totally in sync, and with nobody else to rely on.
Morrone is virtually a newcomer; this is only the third or fourth job she’s had in movies or television. Mitchell is TV veteran after five seasons of The Fosters, along with numerous other roles, and is quite evidently the more technically savvy of the two. She has more comedic beats to hit, and finds more to draw out of small moments. Morrone is a bit more the emotional center of the film, feeling the desperation of their situation somewhat more acutely. Frizzell finds the perfect counterbalance to this common division, making Mitchell’s Angela the more responsible one, while Jessie’s anxiety leaves her more open to completely losing herself. When these two approaches eventually collide, it’s a beautiful, and grotesque, and utterly perfect gross-out escalation that still manages to not turn the girls against each other. Even at the bottom, they’re more interested in each other than themselves.
Like a classic screwball comedy, Never Goin’ Back is both airtight and carefree. So many minor elements of plot and dialogue loop back against (or, occasionally, in favor of) Angela and Jessie, but only enough to fill about an hour of screentime. The rest can be used to let scenes babble on, for the girls and their loose cohort of would-be entrepreneurs and better-thans (her brother the failed drug dealer, his roommate the almost-manager of a sandwich shop; their rival at the diner; their friends who keep urging them to a party they really should not attend) to riff on the trials and tribulations of eking out an existence without dwelling on the terror of it all. For most of the movie, we’ve every reason to expect the girls will soon be a) homeless, b) in jail, or c) dead, and Frizzell’s approach is exactly the one young people really take in these circumstances – to laugh about it and really hope the next move will pay off. When you’re this poor, you get really used to finding some way to figure out the next step that it becomes as reliable as anything else.
This is quite a good year for film all around, but especially comedies – Game Night, Blockers, and Sorry to Bother You all staked out fairly unique territory while remaining sharp, right, and richly performed. Never Goin’ Back is the best comedy yet though, an ideal reflection of its own characters’ impulses and desires. It feels like the kind of movie they’d make about themselves; maybe, in fact, it is.