In 2017, writer-director Eliza Hittman released her second feature Beach Rats. It chronicles a teenager struggling to come to terms with his own queer identity in a hypermasculine environment, venturing into delicate territory with an unflinching eye. To this day, the film haunts me, achieving what few films do: conveying unfiltered truth. Hittman’s third feature, Never Rarely Sometimes Always, continues in the prior’s footsteps.
Trading the confusion of sexual identity for the contentious subject of teenage abortion, Never Rarely Sometimes Always zeroes in on the character of Autumn (Sidney Flanigan). Like Frankie in Beach Rats, Autumn is a bit of a cipher to the audience. Flanigan keeps Autumn at a distance from us, as Autumn subdues her emotions while other boys in her school call her names like “slut”. She carries the same spirit in her dilapidated home, and later when she discovers she’s pregnant.
Despite the prodding of a medical worker, Autumn decides to have an abortion. Beyond “not being ready for a child”, Hittman does not directly give Autumn’s motivations for doing so to the audience. What she does give to the audience is a foil for Autumn, her cousin/supermarket co-worker Skylar (Talia Ryder). Skylar knows the severity of Autumn’s situation and steals money from their boss to go get the abortion performed in New York City, where parental consent is not required.
As they make the trip, the bulk of Never Rarely Sometimes Always begins. Hittman captures the trials and tribulations Autumn and Skylar endure. From riding the subway all night because they can’t afford a hotel to dealing with a labyrinth of medical workers and increasing costs, their trip is a non-stop struggle. Cinematographer Helene Louvart captures the beauty in the strife they endure, presented without a neat story structure. This is intentional, and ultimately beneficial to the film as it gives us an unflinching portrait of life.
Where Never Rarely Sometimes Always sets itself apart from similar films is in its focus on young womanhood. As a man, I admit that I will never fully understand what women go through on a daily basis. Yet the movie allowed me a glimpse into that world, and I came out shell-shocked. From the leering eyes of everyone who passes to a “nice guy” (Theodore Pellerin) who pesters Autumn and Skylar throughout the film, the world they encounter is a hellscape.
Specifically, this is one where danger lurks around every corner for them and they have to be aware of their surroundings at every moment. The characters do have their differences – Skylar is a more outgoing, “conventional” woman while Autumn is standoffish and guarded. However, they manage to find common ground in their world. The performances don’t even require discussion or analysis because they’re not performances. They’re simply real, beyond praise. And as the reality of their situation sets in, Hittman captures the real world like never before.
After leaving my screening of the film, I came out with a new viewpoint on the world. Seeing that other side, what others have to deal with, triggered an emotional response that still hasn’t left me. I have no deeper analysis for this film, only a deep gratitude towards Eliza Hittman for allowing me to understand. A perfect film is one that brings you into a new world, leaves with an emotional impact, and lives inside of you forever. With this in mind, I am delighted to say that Never Rarely Sometimes Always is one of those films. –James Preston Poole
Never Rarely Sometimes Always is now available to rent or buy on demand.