Never Rarely Sometimes Always Jun 23, 2020 17:15:11 GMT -5
Post by StevePulaski on Jun 23, 2020 17:15:11 GMT -5
Never Rarely Sometimes Always (2020)
Directed by: Eliza Hittman
Directed by: Eliza Hittman
Newcomer Sidney Flanigan and Talia Ryder in Never Rarely Sometimes Always.
If ardent pro-life people — or even those susceptible to have a hazy opinion on abortion — would cough up a measly six bucks to rent Never Rarely Sometimes Always, they might see the issue is not black-and-white. And, too, see a breakout debut performance from Sidney Flanigan. Not since Quinn Shephard in Blame have I seen a new actress make such a splash with her first notable role.
With an approach that you could classify as procedural with its bleak color palette and attentive focus on human emotions, Never Rarely Sometimes Always centers around 17-year-old Autumn (Flanigan), a young girl with a out-of-touch mother (Sharon Van Etten) and an aloof stepfather (Ryan Eggold). Our first moment with Autumn is her performing a folk ballad in the school's talent show. Cut to dinner at a restaurant where she is mum in front of her family and leaves after splashing water at a jock who makes a lewd gesture towards her. Upon arriving home, she examines her belly in the mirror. She knows something's not right and it hasn't been for quite some time.
Autumn later ventures out to a local women's clinic in her sleepy Pennsylvania town that provides her with a supermarket pregnancy kit and little in the way of medical guidance. An elderly worker persuades Autumn down the adoption road when she sees the look of fear in her eyes. Autumn works at a Target-esque store with her coworker/cousin Skylar (Talia Ryder, another promising newcomer). Detecting something isn't right with Autumn, Skylar plots a secret bus-trip to a Brooklyn Planned Parenthood, which aids Autumn tremendously seeing as, per Pennsylvania law, a minor must have parental consent to undergo an abortion.
In a large, unfamiliar city, Autumn and Skylar struggle with providing funds for the operation let alone navigating the Big Apple. They meet a man (Théodore Pellerin) around their same age, who comes across both as a burden but possibly helpful often in the same scene.
The title of the film refers to the multiple choice options Autumn is offered by a medical professional at the Brooklyn Planned Parenthood in regards to questions about her sexual history. The sequence itself is an uncomfortable long-take on Autumn's worn face that, with each passing question, grows more worried until her lip begins to quiver and she's fighting back tears with every muscle in her body. It's a scene that would've tested the most esteemed performers, and the novice Flanigan absolutely crushes it almost solely with body language.
The film was directed by Eliza Hittman, whose film Beach Rats made waves in 2017. Where that film felt like an underwhelming, myopic entry into the LGBT cannon, Never Rarely Sometimes Always shows Hittman's prowess at capitalizing on a minimalist story, this time centered around the societal and healthcare hurdles for women. Her work here echoes that of Chantal Akerman, particularly her opus Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles, with her fixation on facial expressions and subtle actions that work to define characters better than words could. These actions are channeled exceptionally well by Flanigan, while Ryder's performance is contextualized by decisive decision-making. Consider when Autumn mouths off to her cousin at the train station. I was fully expecting the obligatory fight that sees two souls go their separate ways before reminding themselves they're screwed without one another. Instead, Ryder's Skylar silently walks away and hatches a plan to assist her cousin. Several beats later, they're sharing an unspoken apology by holding hands while in another uncomfortable exchange that you can call a sacrifice on Skylar's part, when in reality, the moment in question speaks to the cruel manipulation of women in precarious situations.
If there's a problem at hand, it's that literally every male character is a one-dimensional slimeball. This is a difficult critique to make as a male writer. Far be it from me to pull the "not all men" card when I know damn-well people like Autumn's stepfather — who says incorrigible things like "who's a good little slut?" to the family dog — the girls' creepy boss that fondles Skylar's hand when she drops the pouch of money through the window of his office, and "Nice Guys" like the New York millennial do indeed exist. However, the compassion angle is so heavily centered around Autumn and Skylar that it makes this critique even more problematic because you should inherently feel deep sympathy for their traumatic endeavor. The terrible male characters in this film do exist in the real world, but it's quite a reach that every single one that Autumn and Skylar encounter on this journey are this outwardly caddish and manipulative. By the time we meet Pellerin, it's glaring enough to take you out of what is otherwise a grounded narrative.
Nevertheless, Hittman brings plenty of sensitivity to Never Rarely Sometimes Always in a writing sense and plenty of directorial and photography skill with the help of cinematographer Hélène Louvart. Sidney Flanigan makes a name for herself with a challenging but generationally relative role alongside Talia Ryder. The result is one of the most noteworthy dramas of 2020 thus far.
NOTE: Never Rarely Sometimes Always is available to rent on Amazon Prime, Google Play, and YouTube.
NOTE II: Check out my review of Never Rarely Sometimes Always on my web-show Sleepless with Steve. Catch the show Wednesday evenings at 8pm CST at twitch.tv/sleeplesswithsteve!
Starring: Sidney Flanigan, Talia Ryder, Théodore Pellerin, Sharon Van Etten, and Ryan Eggold. Directed by: Eliza Hittman.