Teen melodrama often has been an effective cinematic metaphor for the human condition. When it’s done well – with pathos and wit – it can be transcendent: Clueless; Easy A; Booksmart; The Edge of Seventeen; Mean Girls; The Fault In Our Stars; Saved!; Love, Simon. There’s now one more to add to that auspicious collection of films: The Never List.
Deftly directed by Michelle Mower, from Ariadne Shaffer’s sensitive screenplay, The Never List details the challenges facing two tightly bonded childhood friends Liz (Brenna D’Amico) and Eva (Fivel Stewart) while navigating the slings and arrows of high school and what happens when tragedy befalls one of the pair.
Stewart and D’Amico are compelling, luminous presences, and their dynamic as lifelong friends is as engaging as it is ultimately heartbreaking. One of the key differentiators in this film versus comparable efforts is how believably teen life is depicted: messy, ugly, tempestuous, deep-feeling, loving, and, yes, kind. There is no shortage of bullying in the film, but it is authentically portrayed, notably in the light it shines on quickly shifting sands of adolescence (re: who doles out vs. who is victimized by bullying) … sometimes in the span of just one afternoon!
The conceit of the film is that Liz and Eva, both straight-A over-achievers, have created impish, ill-behaved alter egos named “Vicky and Veronica” whose “never list” includes all the bad deeds they’d like to perform in real life but just … can’t. After the aforementioned tragedy, Eva, aided and abetted by neighborhood hooligans (with hearts of gold) Joey (Andrew Kai) and Taylor (Anna Grace Barlow), starts checking items off the list, spiraling to a point of no return that is at turns predictable and refreshingly dark.
Mower avoids the satirical light touch of, say, Mean Girls or Clueless, that might bring safe harbor to an audience, instead embracing the avant garde notion😉 that, well, nasty deeds hurt people and have consequences. Crazy that! Stewart turns in a nuanced performance, projecting beautifully the inscrutable and mercurial ways of a grieving teen.
Kai and Barlow offer a fresh take on the “bad influence” trope, revealing the sweetness at the core of the misunderstood and offering a nice redemption for those marginalized unfairly in the brutal gauntlet that is American high school.
Mower has offered some fun “Easter eggs” in her casting as well for those who follow this genre. All of the aforementioned actors have cut their teeth in any number of Disney/CW/Netflix productions (e.g. The Descendants, Atypical, Supernatural), but the real surprises are Jonathan Bennett (AKA Mean Girls’ Aaron Samuels) and Keiko Agena (AKA Gilmore Girls’ Lane Kim) as, respectively, high school teacher Mr. Snyder and Eva’s mother Jennifer.
Bennett is a winsome presence, bringing brightness to his classroom scenes. Agena knocks it out of the park as Eva’s anxious, beleaguered helicopter-parent, bringing the rapid-fire spark she always had as Rory Gilmore’s bestie but with heartbreaking poignancy that only a few decades of real living can bring.
Agena leaves it all on the field in her scenes and gives the film its emotional anchor, particularly in the film’s final act. Matt Corboy (from George Clooney’s – not Disney’s – The Descendants) is a great foil for Agena as her husband and Eva’s father, walking that fine line of sharing parental burdens while finding his own voice in the mix. Corboy and Agena have great chemistry, tracing realistically the trajectory of shared life through only a handful of scenes.
In addition to the exceptional ensemble, Mower has great fun using Eva’s pen and ink illustrations (she aspires to be a graphic novelist) to, literally, animate key moments in the film. Introduced about one-third of the way into The Never List, the cartoon versions of “Vicky and Veronica” offer silent commentary on the proceedings, adding some necessary comic relief without detracting from the film’s gravitas.
And the soundtrack is a pip too – angsty and poppy in all the right ways, consistent with the inner and outer lives of these rich characters.
The film is in limited release and more info can be found here: https://www.neverlistmovie.com/. I do hope this challenging but fun, sweetly affirming film find its audience in these trying times. It’s a keeper and worth seeking out.
Want to join me in supporting a good cause? For my birthday this month (December 28 to be exact!), I’m raising money for Ronald McDonald House Charities Ann Arbor and your contribution will make an impact, whether you donate $5 or $500. Just click donate on this fundraising page: https://lnkd.in/eQ_NVZD
I’m a proud board member and have seen firsthand how every little bit helps. This little fundraiser is nearing the $2500 mark because of wonderful support from kind and generous friends like you!
Thanks to our donors-to-date: Gail Paul, Jan Anne Dubin, Tammy Zonker, Nathan Darling, Lauren Sargent, Zach and Lauren London, Deborah Farone, Kim Perret, Randi Lou Franklin, Megan Hill, Julie Flitz Maeder, Liz Doyle, Jon McHatton. Love you! ❤️
Thank you for your support.