Movie: NEVER RARELY SOMETIMES ALWAYS
Rating: PG-13, disturbing/mature thematic content, language, some sexual references and teen drinking
Release Date: March 13, 2020
Jeanne: For me, most of the time, movies are all about the writing. NEVER RARELY SOMETIMES ALWAYS is not that kind of film. Written and directed by Eliza Hittman, NEVER RARELY SOMETIMES ALWAYS contains minimal dialogue and yet it’s one of the most powerful screenplays to date.
Autumn (Sidney Flanigan) is a 17-year-old high school student in a small mining town in Pennsylvania. She lives with her mother (Sharon Van Etten) and her stepfather (Ryan Eggold), who considers her moody and aloof. After school, Autumn works as a cashier at the local grocery store with her teenaged cousin, Skylar (Talia Ryder). They are best friends, though even their exchanges are minimal.
Skipping school one day affords Autumn the opportunity to visit the local free clinic where she learns, as she suspects, that she is pregnant. Attempts to encourage Autumn to have the baby fall on deaf ears. Through the internet she discovers she can’t get an abortion in Pennsylvania without a parent’s consent because of her age. With Skylar accompanying her, the two young women travel to New York City in hopes of getting that abortion for Autumn.
Hittman spent a great deal of time in Pennsylvania researching young women who face the hardships realized by Autumn. I distinctly remember the difficulties pregnant women at the university I attended in Ohio experienced when they tried to get abortions. Most were forced with the daunting task of getting to New York, because it was the closest state in which abortions could lawfully be performed.
And now, here we are again in present times, with young women facing the same obstacles because states have been allowed to roll back certain rights of whom they consider underage. So Autumn and Skylar face being alone in NYC because the procedure they thought would only take a short time turns into a two day ordeal, due to the fact that Autumn’s hometown clinic either lied to her or had improper equipment to gauge the length of her pregnancy.
NEVER RARELY SOMETIMES ALWAYS is a stunning rebuke of these laws which are in place to supposedly safeguard youthful pregnancies. NEVER RARELY SOMETIMES ALWAYS refers to the multiple choice answers Autumn is given to respond to queries posed by her advocate at the Planned Parenthood location in Manhattan. The series of questions is administered to gain information regarding the patient’s relationship history. And it’s the only time we see any raw emotions from Autumn. The scene is very telling --- and powerful.
NEVER RARELY SOMETIMES ALWAYS is the debut for Flanigan, after Hittman and her crew auditioned over 100 candidates. Initially she wasn’t interested in the role, preferring instead to focus on her music. After reading Hittman’s script she changed her mind, and as it turns out, she is extremely adept at portraying the vulnerability of this heartbreaking character, who seems so very much alone.
Ryder has much more acting experience, but it’s the same ability to convey a myriad of emotions without much dialogue that makes her performance so believable. These two actors are incredibly convincing as best friends/cousins.
One scene, in particular, stands out, though there are many which demonstrate their acting chops. Skylar meets a guy on the bus to NYC named Jasper (Théodore Pellerin). He’s just a little older than they. After the girls run out of money, Skylar allows Jasper to kiss her in hopes of getting the much-needed cash for the bus home. While he’s kissing Skylar up against a pole, Autumn reaches around for her hand, which Skylar gladly takes. It’s such a depiction of solidarity, trust and love --- one of those brief, unforgettable moments.
Hittman has directed a rare glimpse at the realities facing many youths of today, especially those from disadvantaged, rural areas.
NEVER RARELY SOMETIMES ALWAYS speaks to their strength in adversity in a most meaningful way.
Opinion: See It Now!
David: No doubt Jeanne has already explained the odd title, so I will not duplicate that. I will say that NEVER RARELY SOMETIMES ALWAYS is a simplistic story about a 17-year-old girl’s ordeal in handling her unwanted pregnancy.
Director Eliza Hittman does not give us much in the way of detail, such as who is the father, but we really don’t need to know in order to empathize with Autumn (Sidney Flanigan) and her cousin Skylar (Talia Ryder). For Flanigan and Ryder, this film is their feature movie debut, and Hittman had a unique approach to help her young actors bond.
She gave each girl a notebook full of personal questions, which they answered and then shared with each other. The result is that on screen these two truly appear to be best friends. Skylar supports Autumn unconditionally in her effort to get an abortion across state lines. They also have their moments of frustration and annoyance with each other during the two days and nights they must spend in New York City. As for Flanigan, she excels as Autumn endures fear and uncertainty in the wake of her decision to seek an abortion.
The only other characters of note include a young man named Jasper they meet on the bus to NYC (played by Théodore Pellerin) who has a thing for Skylar --- we’re never sure if he is dangerous or not --- and several women who work at the abortion clinic the girls visit. Ryan Eggold plays Autumn’s stepfather and I wondered if perhaps he was sexually abusing his stepdaughter. This is never explored or mentioned.
The bottom line is that NEVER RARELY SOMETIMES ALWAYS is strangely compelling, even without much in the way of dialogue from Autumn. We get a bit more personality from her street-smart cousin, Skylar. Flanigan and Ryder are two budding stars who carry the movie, and both are naturally talented. Ryder, in fact, will be seen later this year in Steven Spielberg’s remake of WEST SIDE STORY.
NEVER RARELY SOMETIMES ALWAYS captures the extreme anxiety that young girls undoubtedly face regularly in this country where the rights of Roe v Wade vary state by state. Not to mention the added stress that is exacerbated when the knowledge or consent of their parents is non-existent.
Opinion: Mild See It Now!