"Never Rarely Sometimes Always" Film Review

Never Rarely Sometimes Always, the third feature film by New York-based director Eliza Hittman, is shaping up to be the Indie darling of 2020, having won the Sundance Film Festival’s U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award, and the Berlin International Film Festival’s Jury Grand Prix.

Hittman’s feature follows cousins Autumn and Skylar as they journey from rural Pennsylvania to New York City in an attempt to procure an abortion for seventeen year old Autumn. With abortion only recently becoming a universal right in the United Kingdom (with it’s decriminilastion in Northern Ireland only happening last year), and remaining an ever-questioned right in the United States, Hittman’s film cannot help but feel timely. Tackling both sexist norms and abortion-access disparities in rural America, Hittman creates a masterful testimony to the power of cinema.

The film’s two stars, Sydney Flanigan (Autumn) and Talia Ryder (Skylar), deliver breakout performances beyond their years. Flanigan - who has never acted before this film - is outstanding. She is devastating, utterly truthful, and performs with a confidence that would suggest years of training and experience. She holds every breath of screen time she has. You cannot look away from her, and you don't want to. Working brilliantly beside her is Ryder, who delivers a wonderfully nuanced portrait of Skylar, desperately trying to keep the two girls’ heads above water. While the two girls’ performances provide a striking focal point for the film, they are far from all it has to offer audiences.

Cinematically, Hittman and cinematographer Hélène Louvart approach the film with a similar quiet attitude. Shot on 35mm, the film has a textured quality to it that is reminiscent of a family photo album. The camera often lingers on the characters in silent sequences, delicately stitched together into a contemplative tapestry. We get the deep sense that this is a story of a character trapped, not just by her unwanted pregnancy, but by all the forces around her, seeping into her conscience - her unstable home life, her sexually inappropriate boss, the boys at school who ridicule her for a perceived promiscuity. Yet, Hittman doesn’t provide us with the benefit of Autumn’s thoughts. Instead, she forces us to observe, just as we do with all abortion cases. We observe and we judge. We don’t wish to know the thoughts or the circumstances - only the act. Here, Hittman throws that hypocrisy back onto us, toying with the exasperating effects of a distant protagonist, translating into the audience the uncertain madness that Autumn is forced to endure by her hostile surroundings.

As questions of abortion rights are thrown into the crossfire of American politics following the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Never Rarely Sometimes Always reminds us why access to abortion is more than just a political opinion or a religious belief. Abortions decide lives, they decide futures, and they decide the safety of those who seek them. Hittman doesn’t pose a question per say, but rather an answer; an answer to how we’ve treated the matter for decades. When we limit abortions, when we fail to accept their vitalness, women suffer. We watch Autumn and Skylar suffer, but unlike in real life, Hittman refuses to let us turn away.

 

Never Rarely Sometimes Always is available to watch on Sky Store, Amazon, and iTunes/Apple TV for £13.99. While the price is higher than average, it is important to remember that this is an independent film that unfortunately had to be released during the Covid-19 pandemic. It did not have the opportunity to market itself to distributors the way indies traditionally do, and as a result its price has to be higher. So, take this as an opportunity to have a home cinema moment! Tuck in with your flatmates, make some popcorn, and have fun knowing you’re supporting an independent filmmaker!