One of the great things about teenage movie evolution has been that movies are trying harder than ever to connect to youths by portraying issues of all kinds. Teens around the world now have a multitude of films focused on them and any type of hurdle they may face during this time of life, which is monumental.
Attempting to depict more serious teenage issues, The Never List chronicles two teen best friends named Eva and Liz. The duo finds solace from their normal lives and teenage pressures through cosplay, comics, and a list they’ve written of things their alter egos would do entitled “The Never List.” When Liz passes away unexpectedly, Eva has to attempt to put the pieces of her life back together. Eva ultimately decides to honor Liz by completing each item on rebellious list they created together. What follows is a struggle with grief, some humorous moments, and life lessons to be learned.
The premise of the film is promising. It targets concerns that other teen entertainment may not have yet, including texting and driving, struggling with grief, and homosexuality as well as coming out. While the movie has a few bright spots, it never truly delves into the potential its plot holds. It feels that at most times, The Never List doesn’t takes enough risks or embrace the many layers it could encompass.
While the plot doesn’t fully flourish, the acting given by both talents young and mature delivers. Lead actress Fivel Stewart puts her all into the role of Eva, who is a character with many layers. Stewart has previously been seen in the Netflix series Atypical, where she portrayed a teen grappling with her sexuality and identity. In this film, Stewart also grapples with who she is after losing her best friend. When she is performing outrageous acts from the list, this doesn’t fully shine through in the way one might expect. These scenes feel less meaningful and more ridiculous at times. However, one particular scene in a car with her mom—played by Gilmore Girls’ Keiko Agena—shows the best acting by Stewart to date, and fully embraces the grief one would feel after what Eva has been through. This is one of the few moments in the film where it feels like its full potential has been met.
Some of the best acting comes from Ryan Cargill, who plays Ben. Cargill doesn’t have a huge role in the film, but he is seen often enough to leave an impression and have his character developed enough for us to truly care about him. Prior to this picture, Cargill has predominantly been casted in television series, including Nickelodeon’s WITS Academy. Knowing this makes his performance all that more of a triumph. The actor shines in the second half of the movie, after an unimaginable humiliation. His acting is authentic, and he portrays a hurt young man facing his ever-changing identity exquisitely. One can hope that this performance thrusts Cargill into the movie scene.
Another impressive performance comes from the writer of the film, Ariadne Shaffer. Shaffer plays a small role in the film as a teacher, and has been acting for years in a variety of roles as well as dabbling in producing. What’s impressive about Shaffer and this film is that it is her debut as a writer. As previously mentioned, the whole of the picture feels like it did not reach its full potential. Nonetheless, the dialogue feels genuine throughout. If the young writer can hone in on her skills and develop even deeper, more heartwarming works, she is a writer who should be watched very closely.
Continuing with the theme of impressive females comes director Michelle Mower. She has been a producer, director, and writer for multiple shorts as well as feature length films. It is always exciting to see pictures that are created by minorities as well as powerful women, and this film took that to the next level. During production, 67% of crewmembers on set for the movie were women, LGBTQ members, or people of color. Mower owns a production company called Imagination Worldwide, who makes it their mission to represent women and minorities in film, and this should not go unmentioned.
The film also incorporates animation, which adds a fun touch to the storyline. Character Eva is an aspiring illustrator who delves into comic book writing in the movie, and her drawings are shown coming to life and interacting with her reality. This has previously been done successfully in other films such as Michael Dowse’s film What If, and The Never List is no exception.
It is so important to craft more movies that teenagers can relate to. In that period of life, everything feels like the worst thing in the world. Films have the ability to show youths scenarios that they may be able to relate to, and a myriad of possible outcomes. When at times it feels impossible to connect to teenagers in a way that will resonate with them, motion pictures may be the best bridge we have. Let’s hope writers and directors will continue to produce teen-centric movies and not be afraid to dive into the dark aspects of the problems they may face. The Never List attempts to do exactly that, and while it succeeds in some aspects, it still unfortunately feels shallow for most of its runtime.
If you’d like to watch The Never List, you can catch it in select theatres on December 11th.