Autumn (Sidney Flanigan) is 17 and pregnant. We are presented with implications regarding who the father may be, and none of the options are good. She decides to abort the child, and together with her cousin Skylar (Talia Ryder) she undertakes the difficult and frightening journey to reclaim control over her body and her life.
Eliza Hittman’s third film is quiet and magnanimous. Our character’s speak rarely but express a great deal through their manner. It’s a performance driven film with fantastically nuanced turns by Flanigan and Ryder. Flanigan presents a damaged character who is well accustomed to hiding her pain withdrawing from those around her. It’s an anguished performance of considerable skill. This is not a film of explosive outbursts and melodrama, but rather of prolonged tension and unease.
The film is about all the things that can trap our hero. She faces prejudice, financial burdens and the dangers of the streets of New York. Every service intended to help her is cold and mechanical and forces her to revisit disturbing moments of her past without the compassion to help her deal with them. Meanwhile she experiences professionals determined to change her mind with outdated propaganda and at every turn men who are only interested in their own gratification. The male gaze is constant and oppressive in this film.
Far softer is Hittman’s camera which captures these young women naturally with great sensitivity. A noticeable film grain gives the film a warmer, classical feel that helps canonise the film within a cycle of American misfits and desperates. We experience the hostile city streets from a very immediate perspective. The camera sticks closely to our hero, amplifying the overwhelming experience of her journey. It’s a style that demands empathy with Autumn and Skylar in a story that feels authentic and urgent.
Never Rarely Sometimes Always is a confronting experience but one too steeped in humanity and grace to ever feel arduous. Aside from being a film about pain and shame, the film is also about bravery. It’s a bravery that shouldn’t be necessary for a young woman to take control of her life. Hittman is an exciting voice and one to watch as her films gain greater prominence. Never Rarely Sometimes Always demonstrates ability as a director of actors and a truly original talent.