NEVER RARELY SOMETIMES ALWAYS
2020, PG-13, 101 mins.
Sidney Flanigan as Autumn / Talia Ryder as Skylar / Théodore Pellerin as JasperWritten and directed by Eliza Hittman
One of the very best films of the year is one that I knew next to nothing about before I saw it.
went into Eliza Hitmman's NEVER RARELY SOMETIMES ALWAYS completely cold,
having no idea that it was an abortion drama.
Having said that, to simplistically label it as "an
abortion drama" would be incredibly misleading, seeing as it's an
unflinchingly honest and superbly acted film that never manages to overtly
politicize or get aggressively preachy with its subject matter.
Its story concerns a young 17-year-old girl's journey to the big
city to abort her pregnancy, yes, but as Hitmman's film unfolds it becomes
less about that hot button subject and more about the unending power of
sisterhood and how young women find the inner reservoir of strength and
resolve to come together in solidarity to stay safe.
In lesser hands, NEVER RARELY SOMETIMES ALWAYS could have been
horribly mismanaged, but with Hittman's astute and compassionate eye it
becomes something intimately powerful that will speak to many, I feel,
regardless of their stance on the issue at hand.
film has a heartbreaking opening scene, which introduces us to its young
protagonist in Autumn (first time actor Sidney Flanigan, in an astonishing
debut performance) singing at her high school's talent show.
Her family in the audience seems supportive, especially her kind
and nurturing cousin in Skylar (an equally superb Talia Ryder), but she
faces ample heckling from some of her male students.
Her face while performing seems to hint at a deeply wounded and
melancholic soul, and we soon learn why she seems so out of sorts.
The Pennsylvania residing teen fears that she's pregnant, which is
confirmed during a local clinic visit (which features a doctor that seems
to offer up outdated advice and pregnancy test methods that the youth
could have purchased at a local drug store).
Devastated by the news, Autumn seems convinced that an abortion is
the only outlet, but she can't bare the thought of her loving mother and
creepily uncaring stepfather supporting her choice.
She feels alone and afraid, and turns to Google searching for an
at-home way to induce a miscarriage.
Her efforts don't succeed.
that her hometown offers her no tangible choices for any abortion services
without parental consent, Autumn decides to find solace in her cousin,
during which time she advises that the pair should secretly make a trek to
New York to get a procedure outside of Autumn's mother and father's
They have very little in the way of money, which forces Skylar to
improvise and steal money from her local grocery store that she works at.
The pair then packs up one suitcase and purchases cheap bus tickets
to Manhattan, and when they arrive they're overwhelmed by the bustling
metropolis. Autumn does make it to an abortion clinic, but soon is
dealt with another inconvenient blow when it's revealed that she'll need
to stay for multiple days for the procedure, which was not in her plans or
With very little money left, nor a place to stay, Autumn and Skylar
grow increasingly desperate to see the former's abortion through to
RARELY SOMETIMES ALWAYS has the veracity of an intimate documentary at
times in terms of the way it approaches its young characters.
They feel less like heavily scripted personas that are inhabited by
actors than they do come off like real flesh and blood people.
That's the key to how economical Hittman's approach to the
underlining material is here.
She doesn't offer up grandiose melodramatic flourishes, nor does
she even give Autumn and Skylar much in the way of dialogue.
Contrastingly and more intriguingly, Hittman wisely understands
that young teen girls often can communicate volumes in a non-verbal
manner, with the subtlest of glances and body language.
Many of their scenes together are done in tight close up to
reinforce this, and we gain an overwhelming sense of their tight,
lifelong bond in the process.
Plus, we really don't need vast dialogue exchanges here to
communicate these girls at their most desperate hour.
The hurt and concern of their faces reveal everything.
NEVER RARELY SOMETIMES ALWAYS has such an organic look and feel
throughout that creates relationships that feel wholeheartedly real.
It's this film's sense of dramatic immediacy that is its
more is this driven home than in the centerpiece scene of the film, which
is easily one of the most emotionally wrenching moments that I've seen in
quite some time.
Autumn finally arrives at the New York abortion clinic and is
greeted by a sensitively well spoken advisor, who, in turn, has to ask the
terrified girl a series of deeply personal questions as per protocol (she
needs to answer them with either never, rarely, sometimes, always...an
obvious nod to the film's title).
These clinical queries start to dig deeper and deeper into aspects
of Autumn's sexual history that she clearly doesn't want to talk about or
revisit, but need to come to the forefront in order to get the clear
go-ahead for the abortion procedure.
Hittman's camera lingers on Autumn's embarrassed and traumatized
She begins the line of questioning with confidence that latter
gives way to complete emotional implosion.
It's simply one of the most unnervingly sad moments of any film
from the current year.
like this would have totally collapsed without empowered actresses at the
helm, and Hittman has most definitely found just that in both Flannigan
and Ryder, who give two of the best teen-centric performances in a long
Both of these performers are silver screen novices, but you'd never
know that based of watching NEVER RARELY SOMETIMES ALWAYS.
The pair seem to have this ethereal chemistry and acting shorthand
that's usually the product of veteran actors, and to witness them both
delivery thoroughly naturalistic work here is pretty mesmerizing.
Flanigan in particular gives a bravura turn of understated
authenticity, and her unflashy and unfussy style is not usually the stuff
of Oscar nomination bait, but she should clearly be in contention.
One thing that really stands out about these actresses' work and
characters here is how they help flesh out the pertinent story ideas of
how two anxiety plagued girls have to deal with multiple indignities on
Leaving their homes for New York by themselves, virtually penniless
and with no where to stay, is scary enough, but then they have to deal all
ends of male toxicity along the way.
That's even scarier.