‘Never Rarely Sometimes Always’ Movie Review: Understated Drama Packs A Big Punch
Never or rarely do exciting new directors arrive with such a seemingly quiet film. Never Rarely Sometimes Always looks like many of its peers on the surface: brief, cast with mostly new or first-time actors, and ostensibly small in scope. All of these factors belie how monumental the film truly can be.
Writer-director Eliza Hittman has crafted a simple story with alarming relevance: Sidney Flanigan plays Autumn, a 17 year-old Pennsylvania native who takes an impromptu trip to New York in order to terminate an unwanted pregnancy. Joining her is Skylar (Talia Rider), her cousin and coworker who’s just as out-of-her-depth on this as Autumn is.
The plot complicates and twists the two girls’ journey in admittedly predictable ways, but the central performances more than make up for some of the film’s more uninspired turns. Hittman has done the seemingly unthinkable and cast actors who actually look and talk like normal people — Flanigan in particular steals the show by suggesting meaningful degrees of interiority through powerful moments of silence.
Along the way, Hittman has perhaps neglected her supporting cast somewhat by giving them roles that, by their nature, are a bit one-note. Théodore Pellerin is particularly disappointing as Jasper, an uninteresting young man the two girls meet whose arc is out-of-place in its simplicity. Though their time onscreen is briefer, Ryan Eggold and indie music star Sharon Van Etten do great work as Autumn’s parents, giving the audience a full view of what Autumn’s home life is like in just a few moments of the film’s runtime.
Perhaps the most notable element is Hélène Louvart‘s camerawork. Louvart seems to have created a certain kind of closeup that gives the audience full view of Flanigan’s expressions without feeling claustrophobic in its proximity. Only through Louvart’s camerawork is Flanigan’s inner life implied, and the artistry of suggestion is rarely used as effectively as it is here.
I walked away from Never Rarely Sometimes Always initially wishing for a bit more complexity, some greater conflict between its two stars, or perhaps greater degrees of expression on the part of Flanigan. What makes the film brilliant is that the audience is denied these things — we’re greeted with a story of a young woman having to go through an experience that is complex in all the wrong ways, a story that is happening all over the world at this very moment. We have to take the reality of what we’re seeing at face value because it is just that: reality.