NEVER RARELY SOMETIMES ALWAYS
(***Ĺ)-VITO CARLI

"...a compelling and intimate small film..."

A Hard Look at a Divisive Issue

(010921) The memorably named, Never Rarely Sometimes Always is a fresh Indy road trip film which has recently stirred up both praise and controversy. It has gained considerable critical acclaim and appeared on many end of the year top 10 lists, but it has also been heavily criticized by some (especially by members of the Christian right) for trying to normalize abortion.

I thought the movie presented the abortion option as troublesome and problematic, but the film would most likely encourage some teens to abstain or at least be more careful in their sexual relations. The film certainly presents getting an abortion as a risky and unpleasant experience to be avoided if possible, not as a desirable or pleasurable experience. Much of the danger here though occurs because the protagonist has to travel out of state, rely on strangers, and somehow get home with very little money.

For those reasons, I am glad that despite itís sexual themes, it managed to get an PG 13, which will allow at least some of its intended audience to see it, provided they know about it and can find it. My usual big problem with the MPAA ratings is that they are often tougher on Indy films and they are stricter on sexuality than violence.

The film was written and directed by a talented comparatively new film maker from New York named Eliza Hittman, and it is only her third film. Her other two films: It felt Like Love and Beach Rats were not widely seen but also received some complimentary notices. Donít be surprised if the impressive script for Never Rarely picks up an Academy Award, Independent Spirit or Golden Globe nomination. It could conceivably earn an Independent Spirit Award nom for Best Feature Film. Hittmanís use of documentary like, grainy 16-milimetre film heightens the realism of the film during such mundane everyday events as changing buses in the early morning or wasting time in a subway station while pondering what to do next.

The whole cast is convincing, but Sydney Flanigan in her major film debut in a starring role is definitely one of the best acting finds of the year. Her almost equally talented co-star Talia Ryder is so new that she does not even have a Wikipedia page, but she is in an upcoming version of West Side Story (2021) which will be directed by Steven Spielberg.

Autumn is the oldest, most alienated and antisocial daughter in a Pennsylvania family. The film opens with the poor girl ineptly singing at a school event, Autumn (portrayed by real life singer-songwriter Sidney Flanigan) performs an acoustic cover of the girl-group number Heís Got the Power. She is humiliated in public when her ex (who she has had sexual relations with) calls her a slut during the song. Her family members seem to be awkward around each other, and after the show her dad cannot even bring himself to compliment her (but with all due respect she was terrible.) Her mom (played by the folk rock artist Sharon Von Etten who also contributed to the soundtrack ) provides much more positive reinforcement.

Autumnís body gives her signs that everything is not ok, and she is horrified when she discovers when her pregnancy test comes up positive. When she visits a crisis pregnancy center in her town, she sits unpersuaded through the counselor's well-meaning pro-life lecture. She thinks the counselor is hopelessly out of touch and canít relate to her situation.

At 17, she is too young to get an abortion in her state, so she shares her situation with her best bud and cousin, Skylar, played by Talia Ryder (although it takes some prodding), and the two of them decide to go on a cross country trip to secretly obtain the procedure. The rest of the film becomes the coming of age story of two girls who lose some of their innocence on an adventure in the big city of New York, albeit not for the best of reasons.

Never Rarely Sometimes Always makes us empathize deeply with the female protagonists and we share their fear and trepidation in new surroundings and situations especially when they meet dorky college-age Jasper (Theodore Pellerin), who clumsily and repeatedly tries to pick them up. They donít know if he is a friend or predator and neither do we. On one hand, they are in unfamiliar territory and they might benefit from an ally, but then again, he might turn out to be as big of a jerk as the other males in the film.

What I think irks some viewers about the film is it encourages us to accept young femaleís choices (whatever they might be) in regards to abortion and their sympathetic portrayal of what the girls go through might encourage some to try to remove barriers to getting safe and quick procedures.


Although this movie will not quite make my top 10 list (I think some critics went slightly overboard in their praise) it is a compelling and intimate small film that convincingly portrays two young female characters in a major life event in a highly realistic and nuanced manner. Itís too bad that so many people seem to want or expect a modern version of a preachy ABC After-School Special, which this is not.
 

Directed & Written by:    Eliza Hittman
Starring:    Sidney Flanigan, Talia Ryder, Thťodore Pellerin
Released:    040320
Length:    101 minutes
Rating:    PG13 for disturbing/mature thematic content,
 language, some sexual references and teen drinking
Available on:    Multiple platforms including: Hulu, Amazon Prime
 On Demand, HBO Max, Google Prime, YouTube
 and Vudu

For more writings by Vittorio Carli go to www.artinterviews.org and www.chicagopoetry.org. His latest book "Tape Worm Salad with Olive Oil for Extra Flavor" is also available.

NEVER RARELY SOMETIMES ALWAYS © 2021 BBC Films/Focus Features
Review © 2021 Alternate Reality, Inc.