Director/Screenwriter: Eliza Hittman
Starring: Sidney Flanigan, Talia Ryder, Sharon Van Etten, Ryan Eggold, Théodore Pellerin
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for disturbing/mature thematic content, language, some sexual references, and teen drinking
Release Dates: 3/13/20 (Theatres); 4/3/20 (Streaming)
Runtime: 1h 41min
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 99%
Where to Watch: HBO
Oscar Nomination(s): Possible–Original Screenplay; Long-Shot–Actress (Flanagan), Supporting Actress (Ryder), Director
It’s possible that the indie film Never Rarely Sometimes Always slipped your radar last year. It had the unfortunate timing of being released at the beginning of the pandemic-related shutdown, and played in limited theatres before being available on VOD (and now, on HBO) — as is common with films these days. And, because it’s a smaller film, it doesn’t need to be seen on the big screen, although it’s just as important and worthwhile as just about anything else released last year.
Writer-director Eliza Hittman’s film is centered on a 17-year-old girl named Autumn who gets pregnant and doesn’t want to keep the baby. It’s hardly the first (and won’t be the last) story that tackles the difficult, timely issue of abortion, but it does so in such a realistic, believable manner that makes it stand out from other, similar films. You don’t need to have experienced what Autumn has in order to emphasize with her, and to see how everything in the film makes sense and feel real. Because it’s an indie film with a low budget, it’s shot almost like a documentary; although, this is also partially thanks to the terrific work of Sidney Flanigan, the actress who plays Autumn.
Flanigan was a relative unknown before this film — apparently she used to work as a janitor — and she’s actually great enough to justify her being selected for the role. Sometimes, actors in film debuts disappoint, but occasionally you’ll get a rare find like Flanigan. At first, it seems like she’d devoid of emotion, but that’s the character, who instead of fully processing everything, keeps it bottled up inside. And, in one fantastic scene that showcases her true acting potential, the camera stays on her while she answers a series of questions that shed more light on her situation. (While we still never learn about her partner/the one who got her pregnant, we now know more than we did). It’s some of the best acting I’ve seen in a long time, and I’m excited to see what she does next.
Flanigan’s co-star, Talia Ryder, is also authentically great as Autumn’s cousin; they travel together from rural Pennsylvania to NYC so Autumn can get an abortion. Ryder doesn’t get a show-stopping moment like Flanigan, but she’s no less effective. Thanks to Hittman’s script and the breezy, wonderful chemistry of Ryder and Flanigan, it’s easy to comprehend the strong bond between the two characters. Hittman uses dialogue very effectively — there isn’t that much of it, and what’s unsaid is just as important. The script doesn’t just focus on abortion; rather, it also shows the significance of female friendship, as well as the unfortunate ways in which women are taken advantage. (A couple of instances made me uncomfortable, but they were necessary).
Hittman also, smartly so, doesn’t force the viewer to take sides on the issue of abortion. We see characters who are both for and against this, and Autumn makes the decision mostly on her own, with the support of her cousin (her overly unhelpful parents wouldn’t help at all). I did somewhat wish we knew more of Autumn’s story, and what lead her to become pregnant, and why she believes she’s not ready to be a mom. But, perhaps, it’s better that way. The film is specific to this character’s story, but also general in the way in which it depicts the vulnerability of young women. It does, like Promising Young Woman, present just about every man in a negative way, but perhaps the point: men can really be sh*t.