Citizen Jane’s ‘Never Goin’ Back’ is deeply funny, touching ode to friendship

The film, following two teenage girls in desperate need of cash, was a hit Saturday night at Citizen Jane Film Festival.

This article contains spoilers for “Never Goin’ Back.”

Sometimes the funniest films aren’t the high-concept ones, but the ones that are laid-back and unafraid to be silly. “Never Goin’ Back” has a simple premise that’s rendered delightfully — the film follows two teenage girls who spend all their rent money on a trip to Galveston, Texas and have to scramble for cash quickly. Of course, things don’t go according to plan at all, and the two wander the streets of Dallas as chaotic, hysterically-unpredictable scenarios ensue.

Director Augustine Frizzell has done something remarkable with her film by creating a gross-out comedy that’s surprisingly witty and offers actual characters in place of overused comedic tropes. Frizzell introduced the film as being partially based on her own experiences, and shows it through her compassion for her characters, no matter how foolish they are.

Maia Mitchell and Camila Morrone share wonderful chemistry as the film’s leads, waitresses Angela and Jessie. Their performances and rapport could make or break the film, but the two actresses manage to play the characters like believable, life-long friends. Even when the film’s narrative feels aimless or unclear, the two manage to make conversations about virtually any subject, from pancakes to desktop screensavers, feel casually hilarious. Their various schemes may not always be fully thought through (or even ethical), but the two deeply care about each other despite their occasional shortcomings, and Frizzell makes it clear that their friendship is the most important thing. For all the film’s vulgar humor and narrative drift, it’s oddly moving and even hopeful.

Beyond the talented cast and terrific dialogue, however, Frizzell’s strong comedic timing as a filmmaker shines. Her film never relies too heavily on stylistic flourishes as its main source of laughs, but she understands the humorous effect a subtle visual gag or sudden needle-drop can have. For a debut feature, her sense of style is already well-developed, and it’ll be interesting to see what she does next.

The film, which served as Citizen Jane’s Saturday Night Gala screening, proved to be a major crowd-pleaser, with constant uproarious laughter from the audience throughout. In a post-screening Q&A, Frizzell discussed the importance of staying true to yourself and writing what you find funny, in response to a question about advice for writing comedy. The director also expressed her admiration for a wide range of comedies, from “What We Do in the Shadows” to “Dumb and Dumber.”

“Never Goin’ Back” may not be a typical coming-of-age film, or even a typical comedy, but it excels in both genres because it refuses to play by the rules and never caves to the expectations that come with them. Frizzell also told the audience after the screening that comedy is an incredibly subjective medium, and that not everyone is going to find what you write funny, but some certainly will, and that’s what matters. “Never Goin’ Back” may not have found its intended audience upon its theatrical run earlier this summer, due to a limited release. However, it's likely to live on as a cult favorite, and become a movie its fans will want to watch over and over, which is about the highest honor a modern comedy could earn.

Edited by Siena DeBolt | sdebolt@themaneater.com

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