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Sundance London 2018 Review: Never Goin’ Back – “A charming and entertaining film full of teenage kicks”

Teenage romance and petty crime collide in this debut comedy-drama by Writer-Director Augustine Frizell.

Teenage girl couple Jessie (Maia Mitchell) and Angela (Camilla Morrone) are down on their luck. They are high school dropouts, waitressing in a diner and living in a grimy house share in the Dallas suburbs with Jessie’s flaky aspiring drug dealer older brother Dustin (Joel Allen)and his hapless, slightly creepy roommate Brandon (Kyle Mooney). They’re happily in love, but frustrated. Their plan is simple: go to the beach for a break, eat doughnuts, smoke some weed and celebrate Angela’s 17th birthday.

In most suburban teens movies, this would cue a heady road trip and a coming of age journey along the way. Not for this pair. They’re skint, working-class kids and they need every last dollar for rent. Presumably estranged from their parents (it’s never really mentioned), and everyone is just one missed rent check away from eviction, and they know it. But this isn’t social realism. This is big trouble in small-town America. The reality of their everyday hustling cycle is an entertaining rather than lonely journey. Frizell describes her own upbringing as dysfunctional, and a particular teen friendship inspired the film’s story.

There is a lot of energy in Never Goin’ Back; from the pumped up hip-hop soundtrack and pop soundtrack, reminiscent of The Bling Ring to the charismatic and chemistry-fuelled central performances. Jessie and Angela are far smarter than the people in their life, and at points, this feels like Broad City: the early years as they call each other “Dude”, get high, then get into trouble, pretty much in that order. They would also do anything for one another. “I would kidnap you and take to Mexico before I’d let you go to Arkansas,” Jessie tells an anxious Angela.

There are decent supporting performances too. It’s fun to watch Dustin, his best mate Tony (Kendall Smith) and boujee-but-thick sidekick Ryan(Matthew Holcomb) as the most inept gang of would-be criminals on the block. Marcus M Maudlin is brilliantly deadpan as Roderick, the girls’ kind-hearted but exasperated boss.

There isn’t much backstory, so what we learn about the characters lives is all about what’s shown in the present. However, one of the film’s strengths is in its representation of sexuality, race and class. It’s diverse without signposting, but subtly acknowledging different groups’ experiences instead.

The stoner moments are a bit laboured, and some of the comedy is full-on gross-out (word to the squeamish), but overall it’s a charming and entertaining film full of teenage kicks. That’s hard to beat.

Never Goin’ Back is on at Sundance London Friday 1st June, Saturday 2nd June and Sunday 4rd June, general UK release TBC.

Check out our Sundance London coverage

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