No Looking Back is a 1998 drama about ordinary people in a small seaside town. It was written and directed by Edward Burns, and starred him, Lauren Holly, and Jon Bon Jovi. The story is about a waitress named Claudia (Holly) who has lived in her small town all her life, and is dreading her 30th birthday. She feels trapped, often looking bored while maintaining a polite façade. She’s been with her trusty and supportive boyfriend Michael (Bon Jovi) for three years, but cannot commit to an engagement. In comes her ex-boyfriend Charlie (Burns), who Claudia dated when they were teenagers, visiting home and intent on seducing her away from the small town with romantic dreams of escape. It’s a tough situation for her, to choose whether to have safety and security with Michael or romance and adventure with Charlie.
The film doesn’t seem like much at first, because it’s about blue-collar people in a small and boring town, but there’s something touching and emotional about it. The film captures moments of the town seeming like a dead-end. People at the bar gossip about each other’s business, Michael’s car is crap but he can’t afford to get a new one or even a good mechanic job, Claudia’s mom is housebound after her husband left her, Claudia’s sister is a struggling single mother, and Claudia goes through life with a look of bored resignation on her face. Even when Charlie comes in, he just gets a job pumping gas twice a week, briefly goes out with a teenage girl, and stalks his ex-girlfriend. Even if he brags about getting out, the small town is still in him, and he runs right back into his problems.
The movie has a fitting soundtrack. Sheryl Crow’s “Home” sets the opening mood for the movie, interpreted as a mixed love letter to a town that isn’t the best, but is still home. Bruce Springsteen’s working-class blues plays during a few scenes, and alt-rock bands of the day Sponge and Local H play during a bar scene.
Charlie is a dirtbag, plain and simple. He is trying to steal away Claudia, he antagonizes Michael, and it’s obvious that he only came back because he hasn’t done anything with his life, and Claudia represents something good and pure, like a love he can return to.
One of the surprise standouts in the cast is Jon Bon Jovi. Michael is truly a decent guy, honest and hardworking. There’s no false pretenses with him. He wants simple things in life: a good job, a good family, good friends, and a good car. Jon Bon Jovi really plays him with conviction and realism, and makes him a sympathetic characters.
Lauren Holly did well portraying Claudia. Claudia is sympathetic, but not very likable. She resigns herself to a boring life, but doesn’t look for better options or try to do more constructive things beyond working and tolerating her own existence because it’s safe. Charlie is clearly a bad choice for her. Claudia’s sister relays a phrase said by their father: “No matter how hard you try, you can’t shine shit.” Charlie is a romantic ideal for her, but would definitely leave her when things got hard, like when they were teenagers.
The greatly film underperformed when it came out, making $250,000 on a $5 million budget. Burns said that his friends joked around, calling the movie "Nobody Saw It," and Burns didn't make anything for two years. The film is now available on Netflix streaming, and is definitely worth watching for an intimate character drama.