Never Rarely Sometimes Always
There’s a meticulously delicate balance involved in delivering a message-based narrative that never comes close to being heavy-handed or preachy, despite the obviously weighty themes of the piece. With Never Rarely Sometimes Always (the title coming from a set of available responses pertaining to sexual practices, which is a prerequisite questionaire before receiving an abortion in some US states), director Eliza Hittman manages that deft balance, and the result is beautifully understated.
Autumn (Sidney Flanigan) is ten weeks pregnant, and while she’s able to have an abortion close to home in rural Pennsylvania, the likely fallout of that possibility is too close to home, since Autumn is only 17, meaning that her parents would need to give their consent. Wanting to have her pregnancy discreetly terminated, Autumn and her cousin/BFF Skylar (Talia Ryder) travel to New York, where no parental consent or knowledge will be required.
Unconcerned with moralising (other than illustrating the impossibility of accessing an abortion regardless of circumstances), Hittman’s film is instead quietly observant, with no artifice or narrative trickery. The almost documentary-style aesthetic makes it seem like the story is not trying all that hard, but this impression (when acknowledged alongside the emotional wallop that is the end result) is deceptive. It’s this documentary treatment that might result in the film’s pacing occasionally slowing down to a trudge, but this is a minor critique. Yes, Never Rarely Sometimes Always is beautifully understated, and at times it’s almost too subtle, but this is Hittman’s modus operandi for achieving that aforementioned balance.
There’s something magnetic about the pairing of Flanigan and Ryder, and the two have an easy chemistry as they navigate Autumn’s quest without histrionics or melodrama. This picture never succumbs to mawkishness, even when presenting scenes such as the protagonist repeatedly punching herself in the stomach in the desperate hope of inducing a misscariage. Never Rarely Sometimes Always says a lot, and it does so without needing to get on a soapbox.
Never Rarely Sometimes Always does not have a UK release date yet.
Read more reviews from our Berlin Film Festival 2020 coverage here.
For further information about the event visit the Berlin Film Festival website here.
Watch the trailer for Never Rarely Sometimes Always here: