Written by: Eliza Hittman
Starring: Sidney Flanigan, Talia Ryder, Théodore Pellerin, Ryan Eggold, Sharon Van Etten
Not all who get pregnant have the ideal situation before them to be the caretaker of a child, which puts them in the place to make a massive decision about their bodies. Ideal for no one, but a heartbreaking journey nonetheless as seen through the empathetic Never Rarely Sometimes Always. A methodical and procedural view of the entire process while also outlining what it means to be a teenage girl in a misogynistic world.
Living in a small town in Pennsylvania, Autumn (Sidney Flanigan) has discovered she’s pregnant and tries to understand her options moving forward. After seeing the lack of support in her area, she decides to head to New York City with her cousin Skylar (Talia Ryder) to seek an abortion.
Opening up with a school talent show with other students lip-syncing and a variety of talentless performances, we get our first appearance by Autumn in this heartbreaking and impactful film. She sings a song about not having someone control her, which comes straight from the heart as she uses her vocals and a guitar. During the performance some guy coughs to disguise a harmful word for anyone to hear in the audience, which phases Autumn, but yet she persists. That particular word defines the experience Autumn in this feature, where she must trudge on in a world lacking empathy for her from traditional sources. Her father seems to not understand her and has given up trying as seen in the scene following the talent show. She has nowhere to go with this distressing news, and luckily her cousin decides to drop everything and go with her to New York.
As these two 17-year-old girls progress through their daily lives and make their way over to New York City, one thing remains consistent: men are pigs. It shows in the way the manager at the grocery store they work for tries to kiss their hands and all of the strange interactions they have in the city. Several moments outline the outright danger of being a teenage girl amongst all of these deranged men. From the outright creeps to the “nice” ones who want to help but only at a price like Jasper (Théodore Pellerin). Having to watch these two girls navigate this scary world really puts things into perspective for what it means to be a girl in this society and what social protections they have in place.
The way Never Rarely Sometimes Always gets shot comes through a very up close and personal style of filmmaking. Many moments show the camera zooming in on Autumn’s face as she reacts to things around her. In several scenes, it presents conversations she has with individuals but instead of panning the two both parties in the conversation, the camera remains on her face. This emphasizes the weight of these decisions on her, which is enough to frighten a seasoned adult but this is all happening to a child. The choices she makes should come with a better support system around her to make things safe, but it’s not Autumn’s reality, which ensures she will have to travel with little amounts of cash to a place she has never been to get a very serious procedure done.
Everyone should have a friend like Skylar in their lives because she becomes the sole support system of her cousin. She learns about Autumn’s pregnancy and decides to drop everything and go with her to New York. Several moments display a time where a normal person would begin to get frustrated with the situation because the sequence of events does not go as planned but Skylar remains supportive throughout. From the way she needs to interact with Jasper, who simultaneously serves as a creep but also a gateway to the things they need, and how she manages everything else demonstrates a person who loves her cousin. Their relationship does not receive much backstory because it’s not important. Getting to New York, having the abortion, and getting back before anyone gets suspicious becomes their primary goal and the film remains focused on it.
The straightforward and procedural progression of the plot leaves out emotions almost purposefully to show the steps taken to get this operation for Autumn. Everything occurs and she reacts with a nod or an “okay” without much expression of outward emotion. This occurs until the heartbreaking scene where the title makes its importance known. Through a series of questions Autumn receives from a counselor, we learn much more about Autumn’s past in the way she answers or reacts to the inquiries. It demonstrates a girl who has put on a strong face for the audience for nearly the entire film but has suffered in unimaginable ways and so much praise must be given to Sidney Flanigan for this performance. The rawness she brings to the titular scene serves as the culmination of everything prior to it. Following Autumn and Skylar through New York City, it could be forgotten they are merely children because of the way they compose themselves, but this scene serves as a stark reminder of their youth and the pain they carry at such a young age.
Through her short but impactful filmography thus far, Eliza Hittman has captured New York through the local’s perspective. With Beach Rats and It Felt Like Love, she highlights what it means to live in the less glamorous parts of the city and it shows how much she loves this environment. However, in Never Rarely Sometimes Always, she displays it through an outside perspective as Autumn and Skylar have never visited in the past. Hittman manages to highlight the great amenities the Big Apple offers, but also the downsides in a fairly transparent manner. It has a different feel rightfully, as this place does not serve as a home for these two girls. Heck, they cannot even afford a hotel room to stay in and try to find places to sleep safely, which serves as its own challenge. It’s a strange land for them but it offers Autumn the opportunity to take control of her life.
Never Rarely Sometimes Always proves to be a completely moving and heartbreaking viewing experience and becomes Eliza Hittman’s greatest film. Several moments throughout show the desperate position Autumn has found herself in and what she’s willing to do in order to get herself out of it. It goes through the motions methodically but it remains empathetic with the lead character, as having to make this decision at such a young age with no adult support can be wearing.