Never Rarely Sometimes Always is a drama film written and directed by Eliza Hittman. It stars Sidney Flanigan, Talia Ryder, Théodore Pellerin, Ryan Eggold, and Sharon Van Etten. It was originally released in theaters on March 13, 2020; however, because of the Coronavirus pandemic, it only made a little over $16,000 and as such was released on digital at the beginning of April.
The Story & Direction
The film is about Autumn (played by Flanigan), a teenage girl from a small town in rural Pennsylvania who finds out that she is pregnant. Not having the best parental figures, she hides her pregnancy from them. Her small town only leaves her with a few options but she decides there is only one way out of her situation. She and her cousin, Skylar (played by Ryder), scrape together what money they can and catch a bus to New York to get an abortion. The film’s pacing feels similar to a thriller at times because of what these two girls go through.
The film is very solemn and relatively simple, yet it is an authentic story of a lower-middle-class teen facing an unexpected pregnancy and doing her best to deal with it. There have been other films such as 2007’s Juno that have dealt with the same topic, however this film feels very current and also very nonjudgmental towards this young girl who must make a very difficult decision.
Never Rarely Sometimes Always is not meant to be a blockbuster but rather a film about choice. This film also looks into the discomforts that many girls and women feel with come-ons, harassment, and inappropriate behavior that can happen regularly. Men are not looked at in a positive light in this film, but it is meaningful in its portrayal. While not all men are similar to those shown in this film, there are definitely a good amount that are and these are the ones the film is representing. The film demonstrates that there are possibilities for men and/or boys to be scumbags no matter their age or location. Hittman shows this in the local supermarket where old men try to invite the main characters to a party while also dealing with their boss’s harassment. There are less obvious demonstrations of this from Autumn’s stepfather who describes their loving dog as a “slut,” who is “easy” to please. Their efforts to get help from a man has to be exchanged for something else in return.
Heavy, emotional themes are abundant throughout, and show how often our ability to make decisions about our own health is so often not our decision to make. Hittman shows all of this through Autumn’s story, even with the lack of a film score. The film’s silence makes the film pass slowly, but this helps to build up the plot and keep the film engaging throughout the entire runtime.
Autumn and Skylar are working-class teenagers in a man’s world. Their resources and opportunities are dependent on the men in their lives, for better or for worse; though in this movie’s case, it’s more of the latter than the former. At the beginning of the film, Autumn stands on an auditorium stage performing at a high school talent show. She is clearly one of the better performers as she follows an Elvis impersonator. She gets on stage and plays on her acoustic guitar a cover version of “He’s Got the Power,” by the Exciters. The song is supposed to be about a man who has a woman fall in love with him and changes her life. By looking at Autumn, one would think she would play a more lively version of the song but her version is filled with pain. When she sings the lyrics, “He makes me do things I don’t want to do and “he’s got the power—the power of love over me,” any viewer will know that her interpretation of that line is not the same as the original song. This is the only time in the film that shows her outgoing side, and a real effort to be herself, only for someone in the audience to mutter “slut” at the end of her performance, and her stepfather being forced to compliment Autumn on her performance.
It’s plain to see that Autumn does not have many friends, and her parents do not seem to care for her much either. Her cousin is the only one there for her in a world that would be so much more lonely without each other. Flanigan portrays Autumn as a person who expresses very little emotion, but it helps to make her more intriguing. Very little is explained about who she is through dialogue. Flannigan makes Autumn’s eyes mesmerizing as there is a mystery that is not given to the audience in an obvious way. There is no indication of how she became pregnant or who the father might be. Viewers have to see her story play out, and, unfortunately, end up having to assume the worst when it comes to her love life. The film shows numerous sexual predators, from boys at her school to men on buses and trains.
Both Flanigan and Ryder both gave amazing performances, with Flanigan’s being the standout. Each moment she had on screen was done so well. Each scene that they have together shows them becoming closer and closer as cousins and as friends. Flanigan is able to take single words and make them have meaning. There is even a scene that has no words but it is just as powerful. This scene shows Autumn and Skyler clasping hands, and given what is happening around them, you can just feel their friendship. Flanigan also shows her acting ability in a scene involving the Manhattan clinic where she is required to answer questions with the titular answers. This questionnaire pushes Autumn to answer very uncomfortable questions that most likely she has never been asked before. Over the course of the film, Hittman has brought her audience to care for Autumn. She shows Autumn dealing with many encounters with sexual predators, while she is able to push her feelings down and ignore them; however, like most of us, Autumn has a limit. She hits her limit when she has to talk to a counselor and ends up breaking down. This scene will tear any viewer’s heart out.
One of the most interesting bits of the film is that Autumn is seemingly awake for the entire film. She does not sleep for multiple days until she is back on her bus headed home. She feels absolutely relieved after her journey and after everything she has endured. Even though she is aware that her struggles are not over, she learns to take her victories when she can.
This film deals with a very heavy topic that may upset some who disagree with its overall message. It also can be difficult to watch, not only for its themes but also because of the grim feeling of the film. However, if neither of those things are big issues for you, then there’s not much else to critique regarding the overall quality of the film.
This film is not about Autumn’s love-life or how she became pregnant, rather, it is about her choice in the matter and the difficulties she faces once she has made a choice. This film is one of the best films I’ve seen that demonstrates women’s rights without it feeling forced. Hittman puts these two young teenage girls in a very believable situation and shows how life does not give easy paths for everyone. It’s a simple story with a very powerful message that can be viewed by almost everyone. In the case of the stay-at-home advisories, this film is definitely a stream, but if normal situations were in place, it would definitely be a “Go See It” in theaters.
Recommendation: STREAM IT