Released: April 3, 2020
Genres: Coming of Age, Drama
Length: 1 hour, 41 minutes
Links: IMDB | Wikipedia
An intimate portrayal of two teenage girls in rural Pennsylvania. Faced with an unintended pregnancy and a lack of local support, Autumn and her cousin Skylar embark on a brave, fraught journey across state lines to New York City.
There are ways I like to think of films: those that are already forgotten just as quickly as you watched it, those that you may think of from time to time as they’ve made a loose impression on you, and those that stay with you for a long time. Never Rarely Sometimes Always falls into that last category.
This isn’t the first time filmmaker Eliza Hittman has ventured into telling stories of teenagers finding themselves in over their heads, as previous works under her belt include 2013’s It Felt Like Love and 2017’s Beach Rats. It is worth noting that I have not seen either of these films yet so I can’t use them as a comparison to see how this film stacks up, but Never Rarely Sometimes Always feels like a special coming of age film. Abortion is an unnecessary political issue, (cue the Republicans currently whining about mask mandates and the government controlling their body when that’s exactly what they do to women) but whichever side you fall on the subject, it doesn’t take away from the fact that unintended pregnancy is a situation some girls find themselves in, and not everyone has a shoulder of support like Autumn (Sidney Flanigan) when she finds herself in this position. Films like this are important because they show the viewer that this is a real situation, they’re not alone in going through this, and what they are feeling is valid.
It’s easy to get the order of the words in the title mixed up, though once you see why it’s named the way it is it makes much more sense and easier to remember. The film is a raw and intimate look at the emotions and decisions seventeen-year-old Autumn has to face. She finds herself pregnant, not yet ready or feeling at-all capable of being a mother yet. While the father is not explicitly named, one can infer based on a scene who it may be, though who the father is irrelevant since he isn’t a part of the journey.
Autumn goes to a local clinic where she takes a pregnancy test to confirm her suspicion, and it’s here that her worst fear is discovered — she’s pregnant. Being that the setting of this story is rural Pennsylvania, it makes sense that the clinic she goes to is slightly deceiving towards her and only pushes the options of motherhood and adopting out, with a brief anti-abortion PSA even being played on a TV for Autumn. At home researching online, she learns that those under eighteen in the state of Pennsylvania need parental consent to have an abortion performed. She’s not about to tell her parents about this, so she looks into other options. Neighboring state New York allows those under the age of eighteen to have such a procedure performed without the need for parental consent. She confides in her cousin Skylar (Talia Ryder), who’s around the same age as her. The two steal cash from their job at the grocery store to finance a bare-bones trip to New York City to get the procedure done. It’s so bare-bones that they have no place to stay, barely enough money to their name. They’re traveling there by bus to get the abortion done and return home right after, but this doesn’t happen without unexpected delays and expenses.
There are so many things a young woman has to worry about while men are often able to enjoy the luxury of no such worries. While pregnancy is the focus, there are also other things the girls have to worry about and watch out for, such as the creep on the subway or a man trying to take advantage of them. Hittman effectively captures the uncomfortable and unwanted interactions projected onto women when they want to be left alone. As Autumn and Skylar carry themselves through a few stressful days, their bouts of silence and comfort through a gentle touch is more telling and moving than any dialogue could be. Never Rarely Sometimes Always is hard-hitting, powerful, and one of the top films I’ve seen this year. It’s a film that has resonated with me deeply and one I continue to think about days later, feeling nothing but empathy for those in such a situation. It’s a powerful film that’s not easily forgotten after watching, with Flanigan and Ryder expertly pulling off such personal performances. This is the kind of film all should watch if they have the opportunity.