American writer and director Eliza Hittman’s newest film, Never Rarely Sometimes Always is an absolute raw emotional rollercoaster. It’s a beautifully acted story of a teenage girl and her cousin who travel to New York City seeking an abortion for an unexpected pregnancy. New acting faces Sidney Flanigan and Talia Ryder star as the previously mentioned cousins, whose relationship proves to be the true heart of the whole experience. The film premiered at Sundance earlier this year and is scheduled for release on March 13th, but it’s a release you should definitely check out.
The story begins in a rural area of Pennsylvania where we drop right into the middle of the depression and sickness afflicting our main character. Autumn (Flanigan) is dealing with emotional distress deriving from several sources, including an unsupportive father, a sexually inappropriate work environment and an unhealthy reputation amongst the male population of her school. As the audience, we do not yet know what she has done to earn this reputation, or if it’s even her fault.
Ultimately, she learns that she’s pregnant and the dots start to connect, though the father is never revealed. It’s at this moment in the clinic that our character’s journey begins. Using her right to choose, she decides to abort the baby. Only this requires her to travel to New York City where she can do it without the consent of a legal guardian. Devising a plan with her cousin/best friend Skylar (Ryder), they sneak away on a Greyhound to hopefully obtain the procedure smoothly and without her parents finding out. But unfortunately, in this world, there are threats both minor and serious that can disrupt a young woman’s ability and voice, especially when that woman feels she has few allies to turn to.
Never Rarely Sometimes Always unearths and brings to light areas and situations in life that I as a man, cannot and will not ever be able to fully understand or experience. However, I left the theater feeling much more enlightened and understanding of some of the issues women can face with their bodies and mental health.
I really enjoyed how the women working in each and every clinic displayed unwavering solidarity and love for their fellow females, notably Autumn. All these sequences felt incredibly personal, real and touching. There is a moment near the middle of the film (some would call it the turning point) in which Autumn is asked a series of questions by a female physician. Avoiding spoilers, this correspondence lends itself to the title of the film and stands as a very worthy emotional kicker. Autumn’s life and troubled past are revealed eloquently yet remorsefully in a completely raw and emotional scene.
All around solid and believable performances hold the film together. There is a certain feeling of heightened realism to Never Rarely Sometimes Always that solidifies the sincerity and importance of its themes. This story very much so aims to shed light on issues dealing with toxic masculinity, sexual harassment, female rights and abortion. It takes a firm pro-abortion stance but the thesis of the film does not feel political… which I appreciate given how strong a political theme abortion remains even today. The thesis naturally lies in the hands of Autumn and Skylar’s relationship, following their connection closely as they stick up for and support each other through thick and thin in an unknown city.
Despite being a compelling story that audiences can emotionally invest themselves in, there are moments where the film started to drag out. When the third act begins, you get the sense that you already know where the story is going to end. It kind of felt like the film was catching up to you, but I think it’s because the film was searching for a sense of closure that it could not fully obtain.
Verdict: 4 out of 5 Stars
Regardless of its story flaws, Never Rarely Sometimes Always is a great and eye-opening film, especially watching it as a male. This is a movie I usually wouldn’t go out of my way to see, but am more than happy that I did. I’m unsure how much exposure it will get, but I have the feeling this movie will find its way to the people who are supposed to see it.