New from Al and Linda Lerner on Movies and Shakers: Never Rarely Sometimes Always

This is not the most comfortable film to watch. At first, you might not get  drawn in, but eventually, the young women in this film won’t let you turn away. Writer/Director Eliza Hittman follows with stark realism, a 17-year-old high schooler as she faces a pregnancy she is ill-equipped to handle on her own. Hittman hasn’t made this a movie about the issue of abortion. She clearly wants abortion to remain safe and legal, but she doesn’t demonize either side. 

Sidney Flanigan is reserved but strong as the lead in her first feature film. The first scenes of Flanagan as Autumn show her singing a retro song in her High School 50’s themed talent show. Singing “He Has the Power,” sets up her problems with men. She is heckled while on stage by a guy she obviously knows and we see her retaliate later. We get another look at a bad male example with her ominous step-father, (Ryan Eggold), at home. Autumn’s mother does not come to her aid. This is all about self-respect or the lack thereof. There are even two scenes that show her hurting herself. 

This is definitely not a show and tell movie. Hittman intimates what is going on with Autumn. She has cinematographer Hélène Louvart chronicle Autumn’s moves slowly when she finds out she’s pregnant. Autumn enlists her cousin Skylar (Talia Ryder) to be her companion as she navigates going from her small town in Pennsylvania to the big city, New York, to get an abortion. It’s a scary adventure for both of them. It’s clear that the cousins are close, but there is not much dialogue throughout the whole film. The blank expressions on their faces say it all. 

After Autumn goes to a women’s clinic in her home town where they are obviously anti-abortion, she decides she has to go somewhere else to avoid having her parents or anyone else know. She and Skylar board the bus for the big city where they go to a women’s clinic with a social worker who is more sensitive to her situation. 

Hittman hit up a real life social worker and former Planned Parenthood staff member in Queens for research. She ended up casting the woman named Kelly Chapman to play the social worker with the calming, non-judgmental voice. 

Her scene with Autumn is the most powerful scene in the movie. Up until then, we know very little about Autumn and her feelings. Her face has a blank page. But when Chapman questions her about her relationships with men, sexual activity, her sexual health, Hitman shoots Flanigan in one continuous closeup as she answers each question hesitantly with Never, Rarely, Sometimes or Always. The hurts of her past are pulled back one layer at a time gradually showing raw emotion. It’s enough for the social worker to ok the procedure which has to be carried out over 2 days. 

That’s 2 days where 2 young women have to fend for themselves for food and shelter in the big bad city. And they have to contend with lecherous men on the subway, as well as a young guy, Jasper, (Théodore Pellerin, Boy Erased) they met on the bus to New York who has sexual designs on Skylar. But he’s a little bit of a respite for both girls, taking them bowling and to a bar for karaoke. Still you’re always afraid of what might happen to them. Hittman creates plenty of tension.

It’s painful watching these two young girls trying to slog through journey, having to deal with issues they shouldn’t have to deal with at that age, especially without any emotional, family or monetary support. What about their parents? There are a couple of instances that bothered us as a bit of a distraction during the movie. For instance, how did they go days on end without charging their phones and did no one back home notice they were gone and try to call them? 

But it’s a really downer buddy travel film that includes a current issue. Sidney Flanigan establishes herself as a solid performer and Eliza Hittman’s straight forward writing and directing makes this a movie not Never, Rarely, Sometimes, but Always worth streaming.

Focus Features           1Hour 41Minutes              PG-13

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