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(The 2018 SXSW Film Festival kicked off March 9 and runs all the way through to March 17. Hammer to Nail has a slew of reviews and interviews coming in hot and heavy so keep your dial tuned to HtN!)

Augustine Frizzell’s Never Goin’ Back is an entrancing take on the class struggle in America by way of a teenage stoner comedy. The way that Frizzell effortlessly intertwines brutal realism with comedic elements is pretty amazing. Sometimes the characters seem part of the depressing landscape of abandoned businesses and falling down homes, but other times they act in direct opposition to it. They seem happy and liberated despite the economic catastrophe that surrounds them, or maybe that’s just the drugs and alcohol talking?

Despite all of the bad decisions Angela (Maia Mitchell) and Jessie (Camila Morrone) make, it is difficult not to enjoy their unbridled sense of freedom. Sure, the 17-year-old besties are stuck in a Sisyphean struggle to make enough money to cover their monthly rent, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t have fun with that proverbial boulder. That’s what makes it so damn hard not to root for them.

Angela and Jessie dropped out of high school and presently work as waitresses at a roadside diner. Presumably by sharing a bed in a three-bedroom house, they’re able to keep their rent affordable. One of their male housemates works at a sandwich shop, which allows them to eat for free. And they are currently motivated to work a lot because they have a trip to Galveston coming up. But we know from the get-go that things will never be easy for Angela and Jessie. Anytime they seem to get close to happiness, something is always going to drag them back down. Some may call it bad luck, but it has basically become their life. Because their lives are essentially crap, they rely heavily on escapism (drugs, alcohol, rap music) to maintain their sanity.

Frizzell has assembled a diverse cast, lead by Mitchell and Morrone who carry the film with their wit and charm. Although she focuses on the decrepit environment of Angela and Jessie’s financially devastated neighborhood, Frizzell is never condescending or critical of the town’s inhabitants (well, except for the creepy old white guy). Despite all that happens, there is an uncanny sense of hopefulness, most likely because Frizzell knows that she was able to escape from a similar situation. Considering Never Goin’ Back premiered at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival, was subsequently picked up by A24, and has screened at the 2018 SXSW Conference and Festivals, I’d say Frizzell has successfully escaped from the world of Never Goin’ Back. Let’s just hope other young women like Angela and Jessie will follow Frizzell’s lead.

– Don Simpson (@thatdonsimpson)

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