Never Rarely Sometime Always
Starring Sidney Flanigan, Talia Ryder, Theodore Pallerin
Directed by Eliza Hittman
Rating: **** ½ (four and a half stars)
If we all must die, this is the movie I’d like to take with me to the other world. Never Rarely Sometimes Always is about an unwanted pregnancy and what it does to a 17-year old girl who is not into a foetal attraction.Not really.
When we first meet Autumn(the remarkably implacable Sidney Flanigan) she is seen performing on stage for her family and friends in a small provincial town in Pennsylvania where good girls don’t get pregnant before marriage , and if they do, they just keep the baby. That’s it. We know Autumn won’t.When in the beginning a boy from the audience heckles her (admittedly poor) singing, Autumn seeks him out later and throws a glass of water on his face.
Who is the boy? Is he by any chance the father of the child she is carrying? We really don’t know. It doesn’t matter. This is a not a film where God lies in the detail. Damn, where is God anyway?! We wonder about that quite often these days. I wondered the same as Autumn struggles to get rid of the (unwanted) child. Better damned in Heaven in the future, than on earth in the present.
The majority of the film sees Autumn and her lovely cousin Skylar(Talia Ryder) travelling to New York without their parents’ knowledge or consent. The plan is to go to New York get an abortion and return home the same day. God of course, has other plans. Funny how He pops up when least needed.
This is a film that won’t try to surprise you by unexpected plot manoeuvres . It wins your heart with its stark often brutal sincerity. The director Eliza Hittman(I loved her earlier work Beach Rats) is as motivated driven and determined as her heroine. They both want the same thing. Soon I was so invested in Autumn’s journey that I wished I was there to offer her a place to stay in NY .Except, that Autumn and her cousin would find the offer too creepy to accept.
There is a boy(Theodore Pallerin) whom the two girls meet on the bus on the way to NY who offers them help in the city. He is not a creep. He means well. But when the girls finally have no choice but to take his help, he extracts his pound of flesh. But we don’t hate him.The film doesn’t allow us the luxury to judge its characters.Flaws, it says, are fine.
Not that anyone is particularly cruel to Autumn in NY. She encounters some lovely souls who try to mend her broken heart and compromised womb as best as possible.The film’s title comes from an unforgettable encounter that Autumn has with a kind social worker(played so effectively, I wondered if she was a real social worker) who asks her to reply with the four words in the film’s title to some very basic , very uncomfortable questions about her personal life.
The camera holds steady on Autumn’s face as it(her face) goes from imperturbable to broken-down in 6-7 minutes. It’s a remarkable sequence , remarkably performed by Sidney Flanigan whose Oscar nomination is a given ,provided we live to see the Oscars. But Talia Ryder as Autumn’s cousin is even better. Streetwise and incandescent she lights up every frame in this film which never resorts to artificial light.
The sunrays which penetrate the heart of this film will make their way into your heart as you watch a 17-year Everygirl live through a shattering life-changing decision . Baby, you’ve come a long way.