HomeMoviesNever Goin' Back: An Ode to Difficult Women

Never Goin’ Back: An Ode to Difficult Women

Last year, cultural critic Anne Helen Petersen released Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud: The Rise and Reign of the Unruly Woman, a collection of essays that examined women’s changing place in society through female celebrities who challenge tradition. One of the chapters talks about Broad City and the way Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer lean into a grossness historically denied from women. Now, in that same vein and possibly even grosser, comes Never Goin’ Back.

Written and directed by Augustine Frizzell, it follows Angela (Maia Mitchell) and Jessie (Camila Marrone). They are messy, chaotic and barely 17 and the film begins with Angela using their rent money to buy Jessie a birthday trip to the beach. They plan to work every shift possible at their boring diner jobs for the next week to make up the money, but as they face one insane setback after another, their fantasy vacation seems more and more impossible.

Surprisingly, Never Goin’ Back is largely autobiographical. My screening ended with a Q&A with Frizzell. In it, she explained that Angela and Jessie are based on her and her teenage best friend—including some of the film’s craziest moments. They really did hit each other with a heavy wooden box to sell the lie that they had missed work because they’d been in a car crash. The film’s tone borders on farcical, but more realistic touches like the girls’ disaster-zone bedroom and the uppity hostess at their diner job keep the film grounded. It also helps that this is the second time Frizzell is telling this story.

She previously made a film about her teenage years with a different cast and script, but ultimately turned it into a short that premiered at SXSW in 2014 when she wasn’t satisfied with the result. It’s perhaps unsurprising then that there’s a tightness to the plotting here that keeps the deliberately rambling and antic tone from becoming exhausting—especially as the whole world seems to work against Angela and Jessie. There’s something reminiscent of Homer’s Odyssey in the way Frizzell throws roadblocks into the girls’ journey, but Frizzell always keeps it funny. Yeah, it sucks that they spend 48-hours in juvenile detention, but that misfortune also sets off a recurring poop joke that pays off in a brilliant way that rivals 2011’s Bridemaids.

Still, while Angela and Jessie act like idiots, the men around them actually are. Almost every problem they face is the direct result of a man’s actions. Jessie’s drug dealing brother and his confederacy of dunces are the reason the girls end up in that 48-hour hold. They get beer all over their freshly-washed work uniforms because a careless male friend plays a prank on them. They’re constantly forced to rebuff one of their housemate’s crass come-ons. In a more serious film, these elements might be depressing, but the strength of Angela and Jessie’s friendship makes it all seem minor, unimportant even.

Perhaps one of the most fascinating things about Never Goin’ Back is the way it plays coy about the exact nature of Angela and Jessie’s relationship. Frizzell originally intended to give the audience more detail but couldn’t find a way to avoid making it feel expositional. Luckily, Mitchell and Marrone are such strong performers that we really don’t need Frizzell to DTR to understand the intimacy between Angela and Jessie.

We know they make out sometimes (particularly when they do cocaine). We know they also sleep with men, but they are the most important people in each other’s lives. Female friendships–particularly those between young women–can have an intensity that resembles romance and we root for Angela and Jessie to get their beach vacation in the same way we would root for a couple to kiss at the end of a rom-com. The girls are linked by their slovenliness, but they’re also linked by their zest for life and as difficult as things are, you almost envy them.

As Frizzell noted in the Q&A, some people will hate Never Goin’ Back. Angela and Jessie are almost confrontationally unfettered and while they’re bawdiness is no worse than something in the average, male-dominated, gross-out comedy, some viewers just won’t be comfortable with that poop joke. However, for those who are, it is bracing to watch these unflappable girls face every obstacle with a carefree-ness that seems almost brave.

Rating: 8.5/10

Marisa Carpico
Marisa Carpico
By day, Marisa Carpico stresses over America’s election system. By night, she becomes a pop culture obsessive. Whether it’s movies, TV or music, she watches and listens to it all so you don’t have to.

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