Eliza Hittman’s intimate, raw Never Rarely Sometimes Always follows 17-year-old “Autumn” (Sidney Flanigan) as she ventures to New York City to get an abortion at 18-weeks pregnant. With the help of her trusted cousin “Skyler” (Talia Ryder), the two encounter physical and emotional obstacles in a city far from home. (4/5)
Review by Managing Editor Brigid K. Presecky
If Autumn’s dad ran the New Amsterdam Medical Center, she’d be in a lot less of a bind. Unfortunately, Ryan Eggold’s role here is the opposite of Dr. Max Goodwin on NBC’s aforementioned New Amsterdam, playing a sleazebag father for a few scenes in Never Rarely Sometimes Always, before he vanishes from the story — one that begins in a lower-class town in Pennsylvania.
Writer and director Hittman starts Autumn’s unwanted pregnancy journey in a local clinic, where the old women judge her when they confirm she’s 10 weeks along. They show her outdated VHS videos of why abortion is wrong (a cartoonish characterization of people who are pro-life, but possibly realistic in a rural town like Autumn’s). From the confirmation of her pregnancy, the teenager goes about finding a way out of her situation without consulting her parents, even stooping to Googe how to give herself an abortion through popping pills and punching her stomach. While her attempts fail, she finds a Planned Parenthood in New York City to perform an abortion for minors and sets off with her comforting, understanding cousin Skyler by her side.
The remainder of Hittman’s story finds Autumn and Skyler navigating the big city with little cash and nowhere to stay. Unlike the Pennsylvania clinic, the Planned Parenthood workers are kinder and more compassionate towards Autumn, and really, it’s where the film is at its best: its message of compassion. While all the men in the film are terrible humans: a bad father, a masturbating stranger on the subway, a creepy teenager on a bus, most of the women in Never Rarely Sometimes Always treat each other well, with a comforting squeeze of the hand or a ruse to get money for the bus home.
Sidney Flanigan and Talia Ryder as Autumn and Skyler, respectively, are captivating onscreen and will no doubt go on to successful acting careers. Just this week, Ryder signed an overall deal with United Talent Agency and is set to play a Jet in Steven Spielberg’s upcoming revival of West Side Story (to be released this coming December). It’s no wonder as she and Flanigan, together, create an onscreen dynamic of companionship not often depicted on screen, aside from maybe Nia DaCosta’s 2019 film in the same vein, Little Woods.
Interestingly, Hittman’s story never circles back to Autumn’s hometown or her family or her backstory … and probably purposefully so. Rather, we grow increasingly exhausted in Manhattan along with these two girls, waiting for the journey to be over. It’s graphic at times and, again, depicts people who are not pro-choice as religious extremists, standing outside Planned Parenthood with crosses and signs. Hittman succeeds in her pointed telling of a young person’s struggle with the limited access she has to get the help she needs. Thankfully, she picked two talented actresses who carry off that message with care, subtlety, and, most importantly, empathy.
Never Rarely Sometimes Always in theaters March 13.
© Brigid K. Presecky (3/5/20) FF2 Media
Photos courtesy of Focus Features
Q: Does Never Rarely Sometimes Always pass the Bechdel-Wallace test?