'Never Goin' Back': Film Review | Sundance 2018

Courtesy of Sundance Institute
Dumb and dumber, female-style.

Maia Mitchell and Cami Morrone star as Texas high-school dropouts in Augustine Frizzell's comedy.

If you're 15 and get really ripped to watch some teenagers onscreen acting really stupid when they're high, Never Goin' Back might seem like one of the funniest things ever. If you're slightly older and stone cold sober, you may feel as if watching Never Goin' Back is losing 85 minutes of precious life you're never going to get back. Presumably not too many people in the latter category are going to walk into this staggeringly silly film by mistake, so it will be left to the teenagers to decide if watching contemporaries getting totally messed up onscreen is as fun as just being messed up themselves. Probably not.

This is one of those films that, if shown overseas, could potentially make people think that the U.S. is going down the tubes even faster than imagined. Everyone in it — adolescents and grown-ups, too — is beyond stupid and content to remain that way. China could show it to inspire public confidence that it can overtake the U.S. even sooner than expected. Iran could use it as ultimate proof as to the degeneracy of the American way. North Korea could claim that it's a factual documentary about the lives of American youth today.

Maybe it is, or maybe mostly when it comes to the lives of joined-at-the-hip high school dropouts Angela (Maia Mitchell) and Jessie (Cami Morrone). Hormonally supercharged, the girls live in a house in one of Dallas' lesser neighborhoods with some idiotic stoner dealers and wait tables at a diner where you really, really wouldn't ever want to eat.

First-time writer-director Augustine Frizzell makes it a fierce competition as to which characters are the most moronic: Angela and Maia, whose every other word is the f-word, and who end up spending two days in juvie for the disturbance they create after two dudes break into the house, and take such strong drugs at an afternoon party that they're zombies when they report to work at the diner? Or their apparent roommates, who can barely get up off the sofa and have no idea what they're talking about? Or is it the cranky old guy who allows himself to be the target of some volcanic projectile vomit? The human race ain't got a chance.

If one wished to be charitable, one could say that the characters in Never Goin' Back are blessed with youthful energy, no sense of guilt and an optimistic view of life that everything will turn out okay. A just slightly more guarded view would suggest that these girls are already two-thirds of the way toward a dismal future from which there will be no turning back unless they begin to get a grip. Of that prospect there's not a trace, leaving the girls' fates markedly depressing.

Or you could just lighten up and view this as a screwy goofball comedy about kids acting really dumb and leave it at that. It really doesn't make any greater claim.

Production companies: Sailor Bear, Mama Bear Studios
Cast: Maia Mitchell, Cami Morrone, Kyle Mooney, Joel Allen, Kendal Smith, Matthew Holcomb
Director-screenwriter: Augustine Frizzell
Producers: Toby Halbrooks, James M. Johnston, Liz Cardenas Franke
Executive producers: David Lowery, Isaiah Silverman
Director of photography: Greta Zozula
Production designer: Olivia Peebles
Costume designer: Annell Brodeur
Editors: Courtney Ware, Augustine Frizzell
Music: Sarah Jaff
Casting: Tiswha Blood, Matthew West Taylor
Venue: Sundance Film Festival (Midnight)

85 minutes

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