Directed and Written by Eliza Hittman | 101 min | On Demand
Earlier this year I reviewed Kitty Green’s The Assistant, and while in many respects it is a very different film — an examination of a toxic workplace at a New York production house — the world of men as seen through the eyes of a young woman feels entirely similar to Never Rarely Sometimes Always. Both are potent and relevant to now.
Hittman’s intimate, terrific picture strikes hard. Autumn (Sidney Flanigan) is a teenager in small town Pennsylvania. We can tell she’s a creative type, probably a bit of a misfit in the conform-or-be-cast-out school she goes to. We first see her singing a heartbreaking song on the high school stage, and we learn three things about Autumn right off the bat. One is she’s brave. The second is she doesn’t have the best family life. And the third is she’s been treated badly by at least one boy in her school.
It turns out Autumn is pregnant. Her experience at the local clinic is a weird combination of kindness and propaganda. She works with her cousin, Skyler (Talia Ryder), at a grocery store. Skyler figures out what’s up and gets the money to help Autumn get to New York, where as a minor she can get an abortion without the permission of a parent.
There’s something entirely universal about this story. You can imagine hundreds of teenage girls making decisions like this every day across the Unites States, having to rely on friends and family members to find the resources to have an abortion, including having to catch a Greyhound out of state. Hittman chooses an unobtrusive docudrama style to tell her story, and an evocative score.
The heart of the film is the relationship between the two girls as they navigate the big city for the first time — figuring out how to get to the subway, how to use the subway, and where they’re going. One potent scene at the clinic in Manhattan, when Autumn has to answer a series of questions with “Never Rarely Sometimes Always,” that’s when we realize a truth that to that point hadn’t been entirely clear. It cuts to the quick.
This is the world a lot of teenage girls have to grow up in, dealing with the incredible lack of empathy from the boys and men all around them. Even the dude (Théodore Pellerin) they meet on the bus who helps them on their second night in New York, his sense of entitlement and expectation is way out of line. Hittman does a great job with a close-up of his hand touching Skyler, it’s a tip off of how comfortable he is invading her space.
There’s no way around it: This is an essential watch for 2020 and deserves all the accolades it’s been getting. It’s melancholy, for sure, but it’s also fortifying — a film about strength and truth. It shouldn’t be missed.