Focus Features latest Never Rarely Sometimes Always is a stirring look at the pressure young women face when making choices about their bodies. Eliza Hittman’s latest film is devastatingly authentic. It’s like a 1 hour and 40 minutes punch to the gut. The film is bound to stir up discussion, and that’s not a bad thing. However, whether you are pro-life or pro-choice is quite frankly irrelevant. Never Rarely Sometimes Always is a statement about a health care system with loopholes that isn’t equitable towards women. The lack of uniformity in the guidelines for abortions is leading to dangerous choices that have serious repercussions.
The story is about Autumn (Sydney Flanigan), who is faced with an unintended pregnancy with a decision to keep or abort the child. What in her mind is a natural choice, becomes challenging due to Pennsylvania’s stringent abortion law. With the help of her cousin Skylar (Talia Ryder), Autumn has to traverse a very emotional as he seeks to make the best decision about her future. Making matters worse, Autumn has grown distant from her mother (played by Sharon Van Etten) and can’t even bring herself to tell her what’s going on.
One of the significant reasons this film is compelling is the writing of director Eliza Hittman. She’s able to capture the terror and uncertainty many young women face when dealing with this life-altering decision. Hittman was particularly skillful in how she framed the dynamic Autumn had with her family. Her mother seems to be preoccupied with keeping up appearances around her boyfriend and doesn’t see her daughter’s antisocial behavior as a cry for help. While some films have shied from adequately addressing the societal implications this decision has, Never Rarely Sometimes Always addresses it head-on. Autumn isn’t just making choices that impact everything; she has to deal with the judgment and ridicule of others. The film also feels deeply personal thanks to Helene Louvart’s love of two shots. The intimacy that created made this narrative so painful to witness.
Sydney Flanigan and Talia Ryder are remarkable in the film. Their bond on-screen is unbreakable. Flanigan is especially deft and conveying so much in her body language. This choice tortures autumn, and her naivete makes it worse. Overall, while this film is hard to stomach at times, it’s hard not to appreciate the message it seeks to convey. It’s well worth renting this weekend.