A teenage girl, followed by her cousin, leaves her hometown to go to New York to terminate her unexpected pregnancy.
Never underestimate the power of independent cinema. Rarely disappoints. Sometimes it defies the traditional, conventional narrative. Always, though, offers a more realistic perspective.
The difference with the American studio level films shows, in this case, shows even before the narrative unfolds. Take a close look at the actors; they are everyday people, and not like underwear models. It’s (not) funny how studios nowadays indulge diversity and inclusion but don’t cast actors who wouldn’t be a fit for a fragrance poster. But this review is not about the industry’s hypocricy, so…
Eliza Hittman writes and directs a modern painful Odyssey about a girl that suffers in silence, has no room in her life for the baby she is carrying, and decides to make a journey to take the most difficult decision of her life, yet. Admittedly, I haven’t watched her other films, but I most definitely will after this one. Hittman mounts the camera on her shoulder and like an omniscient narrator closely follows Autumn and Skylar exploring The Big Apple for the first time. The close-ups and the extreme close-ups leave you no choice but to feel Autumn’s pain, to embark on that coach, share the experience of discovery, but, mainly, go through the shivering experience of what comes next.
The “never, rarely, sometimes, always” moment is the brutal realisation that facing the pain is a exponentially harder than imagining facing the pain. The editor Scott Cummings is onboard with this idea as he’s very careful where to cut when this conversation takes place. He cuts selectively and only for a few seconds to the counselor but mostly stays with Autumn’s close-up “forcing” you to look when she breaks. Why? Because it’s not pretty. And it’s even uglier when these questions are asked because only then the boys’ initial, hideous comments and gestures make sense. Think about it from the narrative’s point of view, it takes an hour to indirectly indicate why those comments were made and how they are related to the pregnancy. What is also astonishing is the “show, don’t tell” subplot of the bond between Autumn and Skylar which needs no soppy dialogue whatsoever to project the love one has for the other, without overshadowing the film’s delicate and sorrowful subject.
In a very disciplined manner, Hittman manages to not get caught in the ethics behind abortion and to focus on how it burdens an already suffering girl. It might seem like an easy task but rest assured that it is not. In fact, it is one of the main issues pretentious films are facing when they tackle too many issues, in the process address some, and finally delve into none. Never Rarely Sometimes Always brilliantly achieves that focus, and I can’t praise it enough. Speaking of praising, Sidney Flanigan deserves an Oscar for her realistic performance and I take my hat off to Talia Ryder who doesn’t let her natural beauty overshadow her acting and, surprisingly, gives “friendship” the meaning it always should have had.
I am doing this review now as my next one will be Promising Young Woman (2021) and, despite its success, unfortunately, I have opposite feelings compared to this one.