Augustine Frizzell’s ‘Never Goin’ Back’ is a Spring Breakers-style ride over the bumpy road of adolescence
Augustine Frizzell’s frenetic stoner-comedy Never Goin’ Back is a hilarious ode to saying “fuck it” and “fuck off” to everything and everyone. The film’s heroes – or zeroes, depending on your perspective – are two 17-year-olds, the foul-mouthed duo of Angela (Maia Mitchell) and Jessie (Camila Morrone). As best friends forever (with alluded benefits), they share a bong and a bed, divide their coke democratically, and suffer together as hard-working, underpaid waitresses. All they want is financial security and to eat donuts on the beach. Is that too much to ask for? Unfortunately, it is.
From the get-go, it’s clear that no conversation topic is off-limits. Angela and Jessie discuss the nuances of golden shower porn, share regular updates on irregular bowel movements, and openly panic about the biggest taboo of all – money. Or more specifically, the lack of it.
Whereas raunchy teen movies tend to ignore economic woes, Never Goin’ Back – which just screened at Sundance London – depicts a rundown neighbourhood, and the central troublemakers are struggling to make rent. What’s more, the water’s been shut off (they haven’t showered in four days), their pervy flatmate (SNL’s Kyle Mooney) is similarly strapped for cash, and eviction is a week away.
“A large majority of this film is autobiographical,” says writer/director Frizzell. “I wanted to frame my own teen years in the same comedic light as so many other more affluent teens are portrayed. My life had a tragic quality to it that could've easily made for a serious drama but for this film, I wanted to focus on the good times we had, no matter how irresponsible, and let the absurdity play out in a comedic fashion.
“Whether the film is funny or not is subjective, but I connect to it, and it makes me laugh, so I knew there’d be at least some percentage of people who felt the same.”
“My life had a tragic quality to it that could've easily made for a serious drama but for this film, I wanted to focus on the good times we had” – Augustine Frizzell
The plot’s absurdity, as referenced by Frizzell, stems from the protagonists’ litany of poor decisions and ill luck. After a 48-hour spell in juvie costs them their jobs, the reckless twosome have three options: get fucked up on booze and drugs; plot an outrageous robbery; or do both in one eventful, misguided day. What happens next involves brownies, blackmail, and defecating in a broom closet. In fact, the humour is so authentic that you start to wonder – and worry – how much was inspired by real-life events.
Frizzell says very much so: “I had a BFF, we were parentless for a portion of our teen years, high school dropouts, waitresses at IHOP, did a large amount of drugs, paid rent, rode the bus, lived on our own, were robbed at 7am by a friend, we robbed a store – beach shop, not a sandwich shop – and I could go on! Most of the movie really happened to me in one way or another.”
“I had a BFF, we were parentless for a portion of our teen years, high school dropouts, waitresses at IHOP, did a large amount of drugs” – Augustine Frizzell
Angela and Jessie’s YOLO lifestyle may not involve much future-planning – if you’re facing imminent homelessness, how can you? – but Frizzell eventually found her way into filmmaking. An early draft of Never Goin’ Back earned the writer-director a grant from the Austin Film Society, and she attempted a full-length feature in 2014. However, budget and time restraints proved frustrating, and all that emerged was a 10-minute short called Minor Setback.
“I felt like those (limitations), combined with a rushed script, resulted in a final product that was nowhere near what I’d intended to make,” Frizzell recalls. “I wanted to walk away knowing that I’d gotten as close to my personal vision as possible so that I’d be happy living with it forever.”
Frizzell spent the next few years refining the script and recasting the roles. The new Angela and Jessie, discovered through multiple callbacks, were two performers from contrasting backgrounds: Mitchell is a former Disney kid with 4.5 million Instagram followers, and Morrone is a model-turned-actor lagging behind with only 1.2 million followers. “Their chemistry was one of those things that you could practically touch in the audition room. It existed on its own. We were just lucky enough to find it.”
In terms of comedic influences, Frizzell names What We Do in the Shadows, Broad City, Superbad, and old buddy movies starring Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor. For visuals, it’s The Big Lebowski, Boogie Nights and The Slums of Beverly Hills. I could also detect a flavour of Spring Breakers, Half Baked and Smiley Face. That said, how can one beat their own genuine, lived-in experience? “We are still friends and she hasn’t seen it yet,” the director says of her former partner-in-crime. “But we’ve talked about it, and she’s gonna go when it opens in theatres and watch it on the big screen.”
I ask if, during her multiple drafts, Frizzell considered writing the film as a straight sob story. After all, does the screwball humour lessen the impact of its message about societal inequality? “I've actually written the dramatic version of this story and it most definitely has a deeper impact than Never Goin’ Back. I knew going into this film that there would be people who weren't happy about the lack of backstory (how did these girls end up in this situation?) or the fact that I was ambiguous about the relationship/sexual orientation of the girls.
“At that age, my best friend and I were still figuring things out. We did have a sexual relationship, with each other and with guys. We were fluid and never labelled it” – Augustine Frizzell
“I intentionally left it that way because I don't think every relationship needs to be defined, and because at that age, my best friend and I were still figuring things out. We did have a sexual relationship, with each other and with guys. We were fluid and never labelled it and it worked for us and letting that just exist without definition was an intentional choice I made.”
On the topic of social status, she adds, “It's much safer to make a comedy about financially secure people who you can feel okay with laughing at, and/or make sympathetic stories about those less fortunate. I wanted to try something different and it was tough. If you get too deep, it becomes melodramatic, skirts the issue entirely, and the characters become one-dimensional. It was hard and I think I succeeded in some areas and failed in others, but overall, I made the movie I set out to make.”
But before we get too ahead of ourselves about future projects and alternate versions, it’s worth mentioning that Never Goin’ Back still hasn’t left the festival circuit. A24 will release the film in America later this year, but UK distribution is still unannounced. Which is odd, as the themes of friendship, sexuality and escapism are universal. As Frizzell puts it: “All teens struggle with their own issues and I think they're all valid. Life’s fucking hard and being able to see it with honesty and humour is important for everyone.“