Never Rarely Sometimes Always (2020) is an independent drama that premiered earlier this year at the Sundance Film Festival. Directed by Eliza Hittman, this film stars feature-length debuts from Talia Ryder and Sidney Flanigan. When 17-year-old Autumn (Flanigan) decides she wants to go through with an abortion several months into her pregnancy, she travels from Pennsylvania to New York alongside her cousin Skylar (Ryder) in order to have the procedure done.
The nature of this story relies heavily on the performances, and Sidney Flanigan is asked to carry this entire film. You would not believe that this was her first performance given how great of a job she does. There is a very thin line when handling a story like this where it could either come off as lacking in the performance or going over-the-top, and yet she is able to balance it. You can hear her voice when every meeting she has does not go the way she plans. You can see her face fall with every hurdle she is thrown, and yet it feels completely natural. It is not just her that is given a lot to do, but also Talia Ryder who is taken on this journey and putting herself forward to protect her cousin and make the journey as safe as possible.
The narrative is tight and focused on this one particular story, shutting out whatever else is going on around them. This works in this manner for several reasons, but mostly down to the way that the story was written by Eliza Hittman. There is a clear structure to the film: a conflict, which takes the characters on a journey and ends on the resolution of that conflict. No background information needed on what caused the conflict or whether there is an alternative to the solution. This makes the film send a clear message on what it wants to say and not try to hide behind any extra storylines or details.
As a film that deals with the subject of abortion, it could have fallen into so many different traps that other films seem to do. Instead, it kept the focus purely on the journey into getting an abortion and the process of going through that. There is no guilt-shaming of the 17-year-old that found herself in that situation. There is no major scene between the girl and the guy that got her pregnant. There is no major scene of her being persuaded into keeping a child, except for one small sequence that only helps confirm that she doesn’t want to go through with the pregnancy. This film handles the character with care, putting her journey in the forefront and none of the drama that comes with most abortion storylines in film.
When writing a film this heavy, what helps create the emotion and impact is the worldbuilding and setting a gritty and realistic tone to help make the audience believe what is being shown on screen. Hittman succeeds in doing this, creating an atmosphere that feels completely believable in every single scene. Every character acts exactly as they would in a real-life situation, from the staff members at the ticket booth to the doctors that Autumn meets with. Events do not happen because of coincidence or dumb writing, every action in this film feels genuine.
There is one secondary plot that is explored in this film and that is the complicated relationship between Skylar and fellow traveller Jasper. Whilst this is mainly a plot used to give Skylar and Autumn a way to get extra money so that they can get home, it also shows a harsh reality that some people have to go through. Whilst I do think this storyline went on for a little longer than it perhaps needed to, there are some moments within it (one shot in particular including Skylar and Autumn holding hands in a time of support) that showcases truly what the cousins would do for each other and is perhaps the most emotional part of the film.
For a film that is completely focused on one main storyline and journey, the runtime of 104 minutes does feel long. Whilst this story does not need any embellishments or extra moments to have an added impact, I do feel like the film could have been condensed down. There were several elongated travel sequences that not only added nothing to the story, but stretched out the moments between the film with little filled in between. If a bit more editing was done in between, the pacing would have flowed a little better and improve the engagement level of the film as a whole.
I had heard many great things about this film coming from Sundance, but I still was not prepared for what I ended up watching. This is a beautiful independent film that is raw and honest and focused on looking after their characters and the situation that Autumn has been placed in. I hope many people give this film a shot, as it is certainly worth whatever price it is where you are to rent it and give it a watch.
Have you had a chance to check out Never Rarely Sometimes Always yet? What did you make of the story and the handling of the subject matter? Let me know your thoughts in the comments section and let’s have a discussion.