Sidney Flanigan as Autumn
Talia Ryder as Skylar
Théodore Pellerin as Jasper
Ryan Eggold as Autumn’s stepfather
Sharon Van Etten as Autumn’s mother
Kim Rios Lin as Anesthesiologist
Drew Seltzer as Manager Rick
Carolina Espiro as Michelle/Financial Advisor
Written and directed by Eliza Hittman
Never Rarely Sometimes Always Review:
Since her 2013 directorial debut It Felt Like Love, writer/director Eliza Hittman has done a breathtaking job to explore various forms of sexuality and the struggles modern society has paired with it over the years and her latest effort, Never Rarely Sometimes Always, feels like the truest and most important yet.
The coming-of-age drama centers on Autumn, a 17-year-old girl living with her mom, siblings and stepfather in their small town of Pennsylvania and works at a local grocery store with her cousin, spending her free time giving herself piercings and performing music for her high school productions. But Autumn finds her relatively normal teenage life uprooted when she finds out she’s pregnant and she and her cousin Skylar must travel to New York City in an effort to get an abortion, facing the financial and social hardships that accompany the journey.
Hittman’s script is a thoroughly intelligent, breathtakingly raw and true exploration of the emotional hardships women in the country are forced to undergo when faced with an unplanned pregnancy and choose to go through with the abortion. From the various dirty and judgmental looks from adult figures to the treatment of Autumn as a child incapable of making the important life decision, it taps into the still-ignorant thinking of a lot of the country on the topic of abortion that doesn’t strictly demonize the opposition but does subtly point to this issue. In addition, the decision to see all positive characters in the film be women, but not all women be positive characters, only helps add layers of complexity and brilliance to its storytelling.
Hittman backs up her intelligent script with direction that proves to be rich and sensitive, ensuring audiences are right there with Autumn and Skylar through many of the most painful moments of their journey while not treating it as exploitative or disturbingly provocative. Keeping the camera close with the duo during the physical and emotional turmoil they face even outside of the journey, from smaller moments like Autumn heating up a paperclip to give herself a nose piercing to being harassed by their grocery store manager with lewd comments and inappropriate kissing of their hands when turning in their drawers from the shift, feels heartbreakingly real and honest.
The film is further carried by the quietly powerful performances of Sidney Flanigan in her acting debut and Talia Ryder, and even a beautiful brief appearance from Kelly Chapman as a social worker handling Autumn’s case — which I shall return to shortly. Flanigan and Ryder both step into their characters in completely real and believable fashion, proving themselves to be two stars that not only audiences should be on the lookout for, but that Hollywood needs to begin casting in as many major roles as possible.
One of the best scenes that put Flanigan’s breathtaking performance on display sees Autumn in her second meeting with a social worker prior to undergoing the first part of her surgery, in which Chapman’s social worker Kelly goes over some of the preliminary details and personal health questions. In what is mostly a voiceover role with a few close-up shots, Chapman proves to be an appropriately warm and sensitive presence in what turns into a gut-wrenching scene that turns into a glorious spotlight of Flanigan’s talents as the questions explore topics that are emotionally devastating to consider even as an audience member, let alone a woman that has gone through the scarring experiences in question.
The series of questions sees the camera focused on Flanigan for nearly seven-straight minutes as she goes through a full range of emotions from heartbreak to fear to acceptance and relief of having support from someone other than her cousin. Rather than burst into a blubbery mess or show a lack of emotion, the 21-year-old actress remains subtle and believable as she tries to keep her secrets close to her chest while revealing the right amount of information to try and reach out for help for what may very well be the first time in her life she could trust someone that’s not Skylar. It’s a brilliant and beautifully layered scene that touches deep into the complex themes of the film that should bring a tear to even the most stone hearted of viewers.
Never Rarely Sometimes Always finds writer/director Eliza Hittman in stellar form, delivering a timely, important and intelligent story that is told with rich and sensitive direction and carried by powerful performances from leads Flanigan and Ryder.
Never Rarely Sometimes Always is now available for purchase on digital platforms and VOD!