Never Rarely Sometimes Always (2020)
Never Rarely Sometimes Always (2020)

Genre: Drama Running Time: 1 hr. 41 min.

Release Date: March 13th, 2020 MPAA Rating: PG-13

Director: Eliza Hittman Actors: Sidney Flanigan, Talia Ryder, Theodore Pellerin, Sharon Van Etten, Ryan Eggold, Drew Seltzer, Amy Tribbey

 


 

17

-year-old Autumn Callahan (Sidney Flanigan) is skilled enough and bold enough to participate in a talent show, but she’s nevertheless hectored by a boy and his pals who bully her about rumored promiscuity. Afterward, with lackluster championing by her mother and nonexistent compliments by her stepfather – who labels her as someone in a permanently foul mood – Autumn maintains her sulkiness and retreats with her dependable excuse of not feeling well. It’s an utterance that works for every occasion.

The next day, still harboring discomfort, Autumn visits a clinic, which provides a pregnancy test. A bag of pamphlets, containing things like an explanation of the father’s responsibilities, is of zero relief. “A positive is always a positive.”

Informed that she’s approximately 10 weeks pregnant (though she’s actually further along than that, thanks to the detestable evils of disinformation), Autumn distracts herself with customary teenage diversions, such as self-piercing her nose, cashiering at a grocery store, and uneasily watching television with her family. These would be routine activities, highlighting the mundanity of rural Pennsylvania life, except that she also endures specific incidents of sexual harassment, which, while also far too common, further exacerbate an already trying scenario. When her state’s restrictive abortion options limit her decisions, she decides to take a bus to New York, accompanied by her cousin Skylar (Talia Ryder), who works with her and is around the same age.

“Are you abortion-minded?” With plenty of close-ups and intimate shots, the film plants viewers squarely into the midst of Autumn’s mental turmoil and extraordinary dilemma. Although she’s detached, she’s also surprisingly calm and rational, researching the various alternatives (and even the more dangerous choices, such as self-induced abortion) and asking the right questions at the clinic. But when adults, professionals, peers, parents, and even doctors offer no support (or are seeking their own biased interests), Autumn finds that Skylar is an uncommon, unconditional ally. In this rarely-seen, rarely-examined topic, full of unspoken, taboo details, these cousins never have to say anything at all; they’re on the same wavelength, completely comfortable depending on one another, adapting to sudden changes in plans, and simply understanding the bleakness of this inherently feminine adversity. It’s a remarkable friendship – one scarcely found in real life and one that is absolutely riveting to see onscreen.

In its quiet, contemplative, even-tempered, unforced way, “Never Rarely Sometimes Always” tracks an odyssey of scary, mature, extremely personal decision-making as Autumn navigates not only life as a teenage girl, but also one of the most petrifying of possible situations (weaving through New York’s public transportation systems proves to be a comparably stressful microcosm for her journey as well). Her unwanted pregnancy is made more exasperating by a lack of money, resources, and guidance; when there’s no one to turn to, she summons the unimaginable strength to be independent, reasonable, and uncommonly brave. As she exhibits these qualities, tested by various medical facilities, questionnaires, the potential for complications, and the procedure itself (a daunting process that everyone should be aware of), the performances never falter. Flanigan and Ryder are spectacular, presenting candid, observational, educational perspectives on an exceptionally realistic premise.

The conclusion, which sheds just a bit of light on the origins of Autumn’s predicament, is alternately devastating, tender, and unforgettable. It’s a slow build, smartly relying on the less-is-more theory of storytelling, full of bittersweet divergences (compounding tragedies can be realistic too, though a few scenes go unnecessarily far for added drama) and eye-opening realizations. “Never Rarely Sometimes Always” accomplishes so very much with such a minimal cast of characters, a couple of locations, and no special effects; its greatness is in its gratifying appraisal of the human condition and its affirmation of the salvation of friendship.

– Mike Massie

  • 9/10