Never Goin’ Back has the poppy, hedonistic arc of a song of summer: It’s crass and buoyant, and includes a hilarious robbery gone wrong. It takes more than a few scenes to get used to the hectic-yet-plodding world Jessie (Camila Morrone) and Angela (Maia Mitchell) live in: They do lines of coke and make out; they’re high-school dropouts stuck in a diner job to make ends meet. Never Goin’ Back is a buddy comedy — blissfully guileless, welcome escapist fare. And the stakes feel refreshingly normal: Rent is due, and a last-minute trip to Galveston’s beaches has left these two teens short on cash.
So plans are made: The girls pinky-swear to work double and triple shifts at the diner to make up the money, and vow keep one another on the straight and narrow until their half of the rent is paid. But then one thing leads to another and they’re shuttling between supermarket confrontations with creepy old dudes and day drinking, oversleeping and missing their shifts. It’s the most casual movie about what happens when you’re just hanging out and getting high, complete with entire scenes that are the most dumb fun I’ve had all summer. Morrone and Mitchell have all of the sunny chemistry of best friends who are living with each other, sometimes sleeping with each other, but raising each other, too.
Never Goin’ Back is Augustine Frizzell’s directorial debut, but it’s her second stab at the story. In an industry that gives so few first chances to women directors, she’s gotten to tell this story once before: “I actually shot it as a feature in 2014, cut that down into a short and then rewrote it and reshot the feature,” she tells Vulture. “We did the whole thing in like 16 days, the entire shoot, and it just wasn’t exactly what I wanted to say.” In any other movie, Jessie and Angela would be zany supporting roles; Frizzell films them lovingly and makes them her stars. She talked to Vulture about her own teenage years, her husband David Lowery, and why she wanted to make a movie “like Superbad.”
I’ve read that a lot of Never Goin’ Back is inspired by your own teenage years. How does it feel to tell a story that’s so personal?
I always knew that I was a little different than most teenage girls, but I’m starting to realize a lot of people don’t recognize this type of girl. I have a potty mouth, I’m kind of brash, my best friend and I got along great. But we also slept together and we had this crazy relationship that, to me, didn’t seem like anything out of the ordinary. We didn’t have to define what our relationship was, or what our friendship was. We’re still friends to this day. We talked last week.
Some women [respond to the movie saying], “That’s exactly how we are. This is how we act amongst each other we talk. We have issues with the bathroom and we talk about sex like it’s no big deal.” But a lot of other women are like, “You’re just trying to be like men and this is the influence of the male gaze.”
Has that made you reconsider your teenage years?
Now, I’m like: Maybe? Am I influenced by the male gaze? Is that how I became what I became? But then, I talked to my good friend Liz [Cardenas] and she’s my producer, too and she was like, “No — my sister and I were raised by the same parents, same family, same household. She has a potty mouth and is completely open sexually and has this personality that’s very much like yours and I’m very reserved and neither of us were around a ton of guys growing up.”
Does it make you uncomfortable when the movie gets that kind of response from other women, when they’re accessing it with this sort of psychoanalysis?
No, it’s not uncomfortable. It’s more enlightening in a way. My parents didn’t have a ton of money. They were working class: My mom worked in a factory. My stepdad worked as a welder. We had a lot of hardships, and so part of my journey has been seeing how I came from that. Not that you can’t make something of yourself from a lower socioeconomic class but it wasn’t just that: I was using drugs and living on my own and acting crazy. How did I get from that to this? I got pregnant when I was 18, my daughter is 19 years old now and I don’t know how I became a mom and didn’t fuck it up. How did I become what I’ve become? So, I’m continually trying to analyze that and I think having a broad scope of opinions looking on at my life and looking on at the things that I chose to do and starting a conversation about it, it’s really enlightening to be honest. It’s been helpful, I think.
Again, that’s such a vulnerable place to make a movie from.
It definitely is. I mean, at first I was just like, “A lot of women will see this and be like, Oh, yeah, that’s how we were.” I’ve had tons of letters and emails saying, “This spoke so close to my experience as a teen girl. What we were like, my best friends, my friendships.” A family friend was telling us this story: She was like, “When I was a teen, my best friend and I decided to poop in the swimming pool into plastic bags just to see what it was like.” This woman is like an Upper East Side New Yorker now, superwealthy, super-bougie. I’m like, “Where did this story come from? You’re telling me you took shit in plastic bags to the swimming pool just to see what it was like with your friend?” Like, this is why I made the movie.
I’ve noticed that people get really mad that the girls aren’t talking a certain way, or mad that the girls are dressed in their underwear. What can I do? That’s who I was. That’s part of my experience. I just wanted to make something that spoke to my personal experience. I think everyone has a right to do that, whatever their experience was.
As I watched the movie I kept waiting for there to be a bad guy or for them to be betrayed or violated in some way. With everything going on politically, I get nervous when two young women are onscreen — it’s like, “Okay, what’s gonna go wrong?”
I’m so grateful we never had that. I look back and I’m like, God, I cannot believe neither of us ever got assaulted or raped or taken down a deep dark path. My friend and I never did. We were 15 and we were living in Florida, panhandling and living in a motel and no one ever fucked with us. We hitchhiked to work and strangely nothing ever happened.
I don’t know why or how that’s the case, so I didn’t want to fabricate that. I just wanted to take this little chunk out of my life and talk about the friendship and how much that meant at the time and what that looks like for us, which is what you see in the movie. We were just tight as friends could be. I didn’t want to just make these crazy dramatized events. I just wanted it to be like Superbad. Nothing ever happened to those guys in Superbad. You know? They get arrested and the cops turn out to be crazy. There didn’t need to be this heavy thing put on it. I mean, I have written a script that’s like that and I might make it eventually. The bummer aspects of having grown up that way. But right now … just strict comedy.
Camila and Maia’s chemistry as best friends is so essential to telling this story. How did you find them?
They were both amazing. They were so personable and they both connected with the material. They had personal experiences that felt in-line with what the script was saying so that was it. I just asked for audition tapes. Maia sent her tape, and she read for both roles and was so fantastic. I remember watching the tape on my phone: I was in Cincinnati, like out of town. I was so excited to look at all the tapes as they were coming in, and was like, she could play either role. If all else fails, we just cast her in both roles and she’s gonna have a wig or something! She’s so fucking good.
Then, Cami sent in her tape for Angela and it wasn’t quite right but she had this energy that was just so raw and interesting. She came in in person and it was her and Maia first up on the day we were doing chemistry reads. I had chosen a bunch of actors and put them together and the two of them together, it was immediate. You could just see they balance each other out in the most interesting way. We saw a ton of fantastic actors. I could’ve taken any number of those actors alone but this was the only pair that just they just electrified the room. It was incredible.
Never Goin’ Back began as another feature that you cut into a short. Can you tell me about deciding to rework it into what you wanted?
I was definitely depressed. It wasn’t super-easy. I was like, “I failed! I completely messed this up. This is the worst.” And then when I just canned it: “I can’t believe I spent all that time and all that effort and everyone worked hard.” Even on a 16-day shoot, it’s hard. Everyone put in their sweat and blood and it was not an easy decision, I’ll give you that. It took me a minute. Even then, my producer suggested it. They hadn’t produced the first feature. Toby Halbrooks and Liz and James [Johnston] had come on the second versions and they were some of the first ones to be like, “Just remake it. No one’s waiting on this. You don’t have to put it out.” It really was their encouragement combined with my dissatisfaction that was most helpful. This is why friends are so important. They’re the best. I’d be nowhere without the friends in my life. Nowhere!
What’s the craziest story from your life that didn’t make it into the script?
Oh, God. I know there are some. One big thing that was missing, this is not just a story but there were two big things that were missing and that was all that we used to steal — this is not stuff I’m proud of. [Laughs.] We used to steal everything. When we were living on our own, we would steal food. I remember going into Schlotzsky’s and they had those prepackaged salads and just boom, putting them down your pants.
This is really awful and embarrassing but I’ll tell it anyway. It may not be as bad. I’m so ashamed now because I don’t live this way at all. This is when we were living in Panama City Beach. So, one of our friends, her mom was dating some guy who was really wealthy and he rented this huge, huge penthouse in this really nice beach resort like right on the beach. They’d gone out for the night, so she called us and was like, “Come stay at the house with us. Come party with us.” So, me and my friend went, knew a bunch of other kids there. Many hours doing lots of drugs and drinking later, and I’m standing at the balcony — we were smoking because we smoked at the time — and we just like flicked our cigarettes off. Then, we had beer bottles and we threw the beer bottles off. Then, it just slowly escalated until we had dumped the trash can over the balcony and littered the entire pool area. It was so awful. And then later, we saw that they had closed down the pool and we couldn’t swim.
And we were like, “That’s our fault. That’s our broken glass that’s keeping us from swimming.” I felt so bad because all these people were on vacation and there’s broken glass all over the pool. It’s not that bad of a story. It’s just such a bummer. It’s just such a shitty thing to do as a teenager.
I was reading that a Dallas paper called you and your husband David Lowery (A Ghost Story) “Dallas’ film directing power couple.” I wondered what you thought of that.
[Laughs.] Now that I’m experiencing what I’m experiencing because of the film, I understand my husband so much more. He’s like, “Now, you know what I’ve been going through. Now you know I get stressed out.” So I think it’s brought us closer on a number of levels. We’ve always been close but I love it. I like repping Dallas, too. I’m glad that we’re helping bring some attention to this city and this area.
One last question: How’s your best friend, who you’ve loosely based some of this on, taking all this? Has she seen the movie?
She hasn’t yet! No! I don’t want her to see it on a laptop. I want her to see it on the big screen. She saw the original version and she loved it. She was just like, “Aw, I can believe it.” There’s a lot of similarities to the original. I think she’ll like it. I think she’ll appreciate this one.
She’s so funny. I asked her the other day, “You know I’m doing all these interviews and all of our business is everywhere?” She’s like, “I’m excited! Anytime the movie is brought up, I’m like ‘That’s me!’ I brag about it all the time. My life’s an open book.” And it’s true. She’s a storyteller by heart.
This interview has been edited and condensed.