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Powerfully acted and directed, Never Rarely Sometimes Always reaffirms writer-director Eliza Hittman as a filmmaker of uncommon sensitivity and grace. Read critic reviews
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Mar 09, 2021Though the intent is clear, so is the idea of normalizing abortion and this isn't where the focus should lie. This intent is also why the film struck me as unpleasant from the beginning; not solely because of the content, but largely because of its tone. I get it, men are terrible for the most part and its understandable why Autumn (Sidney Flanigan) only sees the worst in the men she observes as they each bring it upon themselves. Whether it be her father/step-father/mom's boyfriend (it never really clarifies) who shows more affection to the dog than his would-be daughter to the guy checking out at the grocery store where Autumn and her best friend Skylar (Talia Ryder) work who thinks a kind inquiry about his purchase is code for these clearly underage girls desiring to attend the party he's throwing. Why would anyone want to bring a life into this degrading, disgusting, one-sided society? The intent is clear, but writer/director Eliza Hittman's Never Rarely Sometimes Always looks to criticize the healthcare system more so than it does the lack of humanity that has brought this girl, this baby herself, to thinking that abortion is the only option. I hate the idea that abortions exist, are acceptable, and are carried out despite understanding that worse things could happen were services such as this not provided and that less abortions happen when more money is given to resources built to help young women in the same situation as Autumn. I understand that no one in their right mind is pro-abortion and that it's a last resort and I understand even more that most people care only about whether or not the child is born rather than what happens to that child once it's born, but every child born - every life - is an opportunity to swing this society that is so lost and self-consumed back toward the balance of empathy and love. That's optimistic, sure, but while the intent is clear and Autumn's plight is devastating and more destructive to her than she'll ever let on, it's difficult still to not want to choose optimism over a last resort.
Apr 19, 2020MULTIPLE CHOICES - My Review of NEVER RARELY SOMETIMES ALWAYS (4 Stars) As much as I liked Eliza Hittman's last film, Beach Rats, I wrote at the time that despite having style to burn, I wasn't convinced she had anything new to say. It came across as a Larry Clark/Terrence Malick/Andrea Arnold summit meeting. With her new film, Never Rarely Sometimes Always, she has truly found her voice and a deceptively simple filmmaking style to produce a quietly profound, devastating film. Newcomer Sidney Flanigan plays Autumn, a 17-year-old girl who performs at the high school talent show when we first meet her. With her family in the audience, she suffers the humiliation of a male classmate coughing up the word "slut" and finds the strength to keep going. It's a beautiful yet painful way to paint a quick picture of this character. Soon thereafter, she discovers she's pregnant. After a failed attempt to self-terminate and encountering many barriers at a local clinic, she runs from her small town Pennsylvania town to Manhattan in search of an abortion. She brings her cousin Skylar (Talia Ryder) along for emotional support on what they think will be quick daylong trip. Of course, this task proves much more arduous than they had initially thought, leaving the pair stranded in the city with little money and no place to stay. Hittman has written a bare bones story but has delivered complex emotions in every single scene. Eschewing melodrama and histrionics, Hittman opts for subtlety in order to expose the micro-agressions aimed at women in our society. Back at home, the girls work together at a market in which their manager forces himself on them in the most disturbing way. I had to rewatch the scene a few times to catch what he was doing, and in that moment, Hittman's theme of young girls navigating a patriarchal society without necessarily having the best tools to do so, slowly emerged. Autumn faces a hard-drinking stepfather (Ryan Eggold of New Amsterdam) who clearly has a dark past with her, but Hittman never feels the need to spell things out. We experience the male gaze from Autumn and Skylar's perspectives and it says it all without ever resorting to over-writing or speechifying. Furthermore, Autumn, a sullen personality on a good day, delivers her entire history to us without every spelling it out. You see it in the way she never asks people how they are after they ask it of her. She has clearly been through some harsh experiences, but she has her walls up to protect herself. One spectacular scene, however, which explains the movie's title, finds her answering personal questions from a social worker. Each one triggers deep-seated emotions, causing her to barely answer the most terrifying of them. Her crumbling face tells the whole, terrible story. It's one of the least fussy powerhouse scenes I've witnessed in a long time. Flanigan and Ryder also make fantastic debuts with these fine, subtle, lived-in performances. Using a largely female crew, Hittman gets phenomenal work from her cinematographer, Hélène Louvart who has the gift of a documentarian's eye combined with the ability to bring us one beautifully framed, naturally lit image after another. Autumn and Skylar often appear together in many shots which skillfully show their alternately close or distant moments. I particularly loved a scene in which Skylar kisses a young man (Théodore Pellerin) they befriend behind a pole as Autumn reaches out her hand to get Skylar's attention. It's difficult to balance a cinema verite, almost real time style with one that's thought out and composed, but Hittman and Louvart pull it off seamlessly. I loved that Hittman chose not to fill the film with the usual New York City terrors. It's enough to watch our two leads lug a suitcase around in the rain, to ride the subways all night, and worry about who approaches them. We see a man pleasuring himself in front of them on the subway, yet the way these young women exist in their surroundings packs more punch. A lovely scene in which Skylar applies makeup to a tired, hungry Autumn perfectly found the tenderness and survival instincts this pair possesses. Moreover, they behave like real teenagers. Without eye rolls or snappy dialogue, this pair use a less is more approach to reveal the quiet hellscape of their lives. This terse, blank style works so much better than screaming to the back rows. Hittman doesn't have a loud message for her audience when a muffled scream will suffice. Never Rarely Sometimes Always is small on incident and showy scenes, yet it still manages to roar.
Apr 07, 2020Independent films that premiere at festivals, get picked up by a pretty recognizable distribution company, and eventually either released in theatres, or in this case, at home, rarely get seen by a large audience, due to the small nature of the movie. Without large marketing campaigns, films like Never Rarely Sometimes Always are likely to fall by the wayside. With that said, it's also very much a case of whether or not you're willing to watch a film with tough subject matter. I always highly recommend viewers seek out hidden gems because you will often find something great that nobody has been talking about. Due to the premise of this movie though, I find it extremely difficult to tell you to watch it and here's why. After 17-year-old Autumn finds out she's unintentionally pregnant, she ventures off to New York City with the company of her cousin. Her plan is to find a clinic that will allow her to terminate the pregnancy, which becomes quite a stressful life-threatening trip for her. Off the top, I'll just state that if this premise will never be able to hold your attention, I'll save you from this movie in saying that it really does waiver from that synopsis. When I watch a movie, I choose to put myself in the shoes of the person involved, even if that means stretching my beliefs a little. In regards to that, this movie is absolutely fantastic. From the dirty, grainy look to the entire film to the incredibly raw performances by both Sidney Flanigan and Talia Ryder, this film had all the makings of what people in the film industry consider a "festival darling." Not only did this film feel authentic from start to finish, but can also work as a lesson to those who are faced with a similar situation. While I found myself fundamentally disagreeing with every single decision every character made throughout the course of this movie, I also felt for them. Autumn was faced with impossible circumstances between this and her home life and made you beg the question of what the right decision truly was. Written and directed by Eliza Hittman, Never Rarely Sometimes Always has proven to me that she is a director worth following. The performances she was able to get out of every actor/actress involved were amazing to me. I believe it was due to her realistic screenplay and caring direction that such an authentic film came from her. She is definitely someone I will seek out in the future. While it is some very tough subject matter to handle, I believe she did a great job, even if it will be a devastating watch for many viewers. In the end, Never Rarely Sometimes Always is not a film for everyone. Some viewers will despise it, some, like myself, will be able to look at the story itself and find a fantastically done film, and other may be able to relate to it on a personal level. This is the type of movie that will hit viewers in many different ways. On top of that, it has a very slow and quiet feel to it, so some viewers may also find it slightly boring. For me, it was kind of the perfect storm of being hard to watch, but also impeccably made. Again, it's very hard to recommend this one, but if you're willing, it's pretty great.