As a nation, America has come a long way in the past 100 years. Things aren’t perfect, but policies and laws have enabled minorities and women the ability to be treated as individuals against their fellow man. Some fight back against these changes, but they are ultimately fighting a losing battle as the nation becomes more progressive.
One hot topic that is still ravenously debated, however, is abortion rights. Anyone familiar with politics will know that republicans are pro-life and democrats are pro-choice. The idea isn’t that an unborn life is important, but that men in power are trying to control what women can do with their bodies.
This review isn’t going to try and sway your opinion on the matter, but know that Never Rarely Sometimes Always is 100% a pro-choice film. It deals with a subject that many want to ignore and are close-minded about. If you have any problem with that, then just leave now.
Never Rarely Sometimes Always
Director: Eliza Hittman
Release: March 13, 2020
Our story begins with a school talent show one night. We see several students attempting to perform various different acts before we’re introduced to this film’s main character, Autumn (Sidney Flanigan). Belting her heart out to The Exciters “He’s Got The Power,” she is interrupted mid-song by some punk kid yelling “whore” in the audience. After taking a second to compose herself, she continues and the scene cuts to a restaurant with her family.
Partially in a goth phase, 17-year-old Autumn’s parents misinterpret her introverted presence as being self-absorbed. They offer some faint words of praise while a boy at a table across from Autumn is making lewd gestures at her. She stands up from the table, throws water in his face, and walks home. All by herself, the film begins to make it clear that something is bothering Autumn and that something is an unplanned pregnancy.
The next morning, Autumn ditches school to head to a Planned Parenthood facility. Being in rural Pennsylvania, the office is pretty low-tech and doesn’t really offer much solace to her worried mind. She takes a self-administered pregnancy test (basically one of those over-the-counter supermarket kits) and the results come up positive. Scrambling for what to do, she asks the doctor if abortion is an option before getting treated to some 80s propaganda videotape.
From there, the film flows in a very sequential fashion over the choices Autumn makes. She, at first, attempts to hide the truth from her cousin Skylar (Talia Ryder), but the girl quickly picks up on what’s happening. The two work at the same Wal-Mart-esque store and are routinely subjected to sexual harassment by their superiors. There’s a particularly gross moment where when handing each others register cash behind the counter, some unseen man grabs their hands and kisses them. I’m getting chills even typing that.
So with Skylar now aware of Autumn’s predicament, she pockets cash from the store and the two plan a trip to NYC to get some actual help. It should be noted that Autumn’s own family doesn’t happen to care about her. Her father is shown to be a self-absorbed prick and her mother has practically given up on what to do. It paints a very harrowing first-impression that sets the tone for the film well.
Revealing the rest of the plot details will give away all of the important moments, but suffice to say, Never Rarely Sometimes Always is more a story about the crazy hoops some girls have to jump through just to get the care they need. It shouldn’t be up to anyone else whether Autumn wants to have an abortion or not, but the way certain states regulate laws surrounding abortions creates situations where otherwise good people will do illegal things just to prevent a worse outcome.
The main thing you’ll take away from the film is just how much the support systems in Autumn’s life have failed her. I might be a man and not be familiar with pro-choice, but I know that my parents were always there for me. If I happened to get a girl pregnant in high school, they’d obviously be disappointed, but my parents would be there. For Autumn, the world seemingly wants to keep her down.
It doesn’t help that the ultimate reason for her pregnancy points to something far worse than initially expected. Again, I won’t detail too much. Especially since telling this particular bit will rob you of experiencing the movie’s best scene, but know that there is more beneath the surface than initially expected. Never Rarely Sometimes Always is a grimy film that doesn’t sugarcoat the message it is delivering.
This is all facilitated by excellent performances from both Flanigan and Ryder. Both are new to acting, but you wouldn’t even know it. They appear so natural in every scene and their interplay with each other is flawless in its execution. When thinking about certain plot points, I was almost considering it a documentary from how good the acting is. There are some moments from the trailers you can watch that will show exactly what I mean.
I’m also struck by the deliberate move to show all men in the film in an unfavorable light. My initial thinking was that director Eliza Hittman hates men, but the point is that all of the men in Autumn’s life don’t understand the tough choice she is making. This goes back to the statement I made in the opening of this review: abortion rights aren’t about protecting unborn lives, but controlling women’s choices.
From Autumn’s distant father to her creep boss and even the random boy that’s trying to hook up with Skylar, every male is shown to be self-interested and unresponsive to the women around them. That’s a pretty bleak picture to paint of the opposite sex, but can you blame the choice? Most men online spout off sexist rhetoric like God called down to them on Mount Sinai. Men really have no say in what a woman is doing with her body.
I also have to applaud the usage of music in the film. It is kept pretty minimal and the sound design mostly focuses on creating a sense of over-stimulation. Regulars of NYC will likely be unphased here, but Autumn and Skylar initially walking off the bus into the busy streets of the city sees the audio ramp up in volume and put surrounding speakers to good use. Other moments periodically throughout the course of the film do the same, constantly isolating the viewpoint so that you can barely focus on the visuals. It perfectly mimics the fright going through both of these young girls.
Where the film loses some of its luster is with pacing. Clearly trying to show the anguish these girls are facing in waiting all day, the film moves at a glacial pace. It clocks in at less than two hours, but it feels like an eternity. I can tell that is deliberate, but I do feel some moments of aimless wandering and staring off into the distance could have been trimmed back a bit.
Even without doing that, it’s not like Never Rarely Sometimes Always is a bad film. It is far from that. I wouldn’t use “enjoyment” to describe the movie at all, but it is an important piece of modern cinema that more open minded individuals should see. I could also see women in a similar situation feeling empowered because of the respect this movie gives to its subject material.
The film likely won’t change your mind on the whole abortion debate, but it isn’t meant to anyway. This is more a film showing the reality of the world we live in instead of trying to smash you over the head with blunt symbolism. It will clearly be controversial to a good number of people, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.