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Teen Comedies Have a Class Problem, and Augustine Frizzell’s ‘Never Goin’ Back’ Tries to Fix It

Writer-director Augustine Frizzell writes for IndieWire about creating a cinematic space to reflect on her wayward years.

Maia Mitchell and Cami Morrone appear in Never Goin' Back by Augustine Frizzell, an official selection of the Midnight program at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Clay Grier. All photos are copyrighted and may be used by press only for the purpose of news or editorial coverage of Sundance Institute programs. Photos must be accompanied by a credit to the photographer and/or 'Courtesy of Sundance Institute.' Unauthorized use, alteration, reproduction or sale of logos and/or photos is strictly prohibited.

Maia Mitchell and Cami Morrone in “Never Goin’ Back”

Sundance

Augustine Frizzell’s feature debut “Never Goin’ Back” premiered at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year and distributor A24 will be releasing it in theaters August 3. The stoner comedy tells the story of Angela (Maia Mitchell) and Jessie (Camila Morrone), two high school dropouts desperately trying to scrape together rent and avoid eviction, but along the way get distracted by a party, getting high and their dream of going to the beach. Here, Frizzell reflects on the motivation behind making a female-centric movie in a genre usually dominated by men.

Most of us, regardless of our individual experiences, feel some degree of nostalgia for our teen years. For me, the memories are less about the exact events and more about a feeling I like evoking via the stories of my youth.

I know I’m not alone. There’s an entire genre of films dedicated to teenagers and the dumb shit they do. We like looking back, laughing at the stupid mistakes we made, reminiscing on the trouble we got ourselves into and feeling grateful for the lessons of youth.

Director Augustine Frizzell on the set of "Never Goin' Back"

Director Augustine Frizzell on the set of “Never Goin’ Back”

Clay Grier

Most of the kids we see in teen comedies are from comfortable, middle class families. They have college on the horizon, families who love and support them and eventually they’ll become good, productive members of society. The stakes are never too high and we’re not likely to judge these kids too harshly for the bad decisions they’re making. We can rest easy knowing that in the end they’ll graduate, head off to college, start families and not cause any real trouble. And the truth is, this is the case for a large majority of the movie going audience, but not all of us.

There’s a whole world of people who dropped out of high school, never went to college, had working class parents (or no parents at all) and no real prospects for a bright future. So why don’t we see comedies about these kids?

Well for one, when you look at the reality of wayward teens, it’s a fucking bummer and who wants to watch these types of teens act stupid? Their lives are already a mess, so shouldn’t they be doing everything they can to straighten up? I mean, this is the narrative we’re used to seeing about these miscreant kids. Movies about impoverished youth are set to a different tone, one of trouble, (real trouble), struggle, hardship and if the story follows traditional structure, redemption in the end. There’s nothing funny about poverty or living on the fringe.

Second, comedy is hard. Period. Why make it that much harder by wading in unfamiliar waters?

For me, my life was reasonably good up until a certain point in time when it wasn’t. I was on my own at 15, had to drop out of school so I could work to pay rent, and all the problems in my life became very real. Fearing a bad grade on a term paper was swapped out for the fear of getting evicted if we didn’t earn enough at our shitty waitress jobs to pay rent (at 15 mind you.)

We spend a lot of time trying to figure out our lives, our futures, and how we were going to survive, but like any other young person we also had periods of fun. I chose to look back on the days of my youth with the same nonjudgemental lens in which I view other teens who had more traditional lives. Yes we were stupid, yes we fucked up, but our right to find the humor in those situations is valid.

This film may not be funny to everyone, but films like this, that are just left of center are important. They don’t win awards or break any box office records, but they put a tiny crack in the ceiling that over time gets wider and wider, making room for new films to do this, but better.

"Never Goin' Back"

“Never Goin’ Back”

A24/Screenshot

My film isn’t some “trendy answer to the lack of female representation” as it’s been called, nor is it my attempt at gender swapping the classic teen boy or stoner comedy. This is me making a movie that I wanted to see, because it represented me and my own teen experience and I’d never seen that before. They say to write what you know, and so I did. I sincerely hope this opens the door, even a little, for others to do the same.

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