Directed by: Eliza Hittman
Premise: A teenage girl (Sidney Flanigan) living in a small Pennsylvania community discovers that she is pregnant. Accompanied by her cousin (Talia Ryder), she travels to New York City to get an abortion.
What Works: Never Rarely Sometimes Always is a feminist piece about two young women operating in a patriarchal world. Virtually every scenario in the film is framed in a way that draws attention to how these women cope with male harassment or appease male egos or otherwise jump through hoops imposed upon them by a male-dominated society. The film opens with teenage Autumn, played by Sidney Flanigan, performing at a school talent show and being heckled by male students. Autumn and her cousin Skylar, played by Talia Ryder, work at a store where they are sexually harassed by their boss. Autumn is secretly pregnant and concealing her condition. The two of them collect money to travel to New York City where Autumn can secure an abortion. What is supposed to be a simple trip turns into a multiple day odyssey of finding a clinic that can provide Autumn the services she needs and fulfilling the bureaucratic regulations around abortion. The filmmakers have something to say about the world and how women must navigate rules imposed by a patriarchal culture but Never Rarely Sometimes Always does not comes across preachy or didactic. The film invites us to empathize with these young women and these events are framed in a way that leads the audience where the filmmakers want us to go. This is effective filmmaking emboldened by a terrific pair of performances by Sidney Flanigan and Talia Ryder. Both Autumn and Skylar come across as credible teenagers. They’re not stupid but they are sometimes naïve and the maturity and gravity of the story are interrupted by occasional moments of youthful levity. Flanigan and Ryder’s characters have a sisterly bond and as a feminist piece this film offers a vision of women looking out for each other.
What Doesn’t: Never Rarely Sometimes Always is an abortion drama that presupposes a pro-abortion stance. That’s not a criticism of the film; it has a point of view and the filmmakers go through pains to make the audience empathize with these young women and why they do what they do. But viewers who can’t get past the film’s stance on abortion are probably not going to be able to get into it.
DVD extras: None.
Bottom Line: Never Rarely Sometimes Always is a quiet but impactful story of young women coping with life in a patriarchal culture. The craftsmanship of the movie is not ostentatious but that makes it all the more effective, leading us to empathize with these characters and see the world through their eyes.
Episode: #810 (July 26, 2020)