Here is a little but extraordinary film you must watch right now. Phlegmatically observing a desperate and frustrating journey of two adolescent girls seeking abortion, Eliza Hittman’s latest film “Never Rarely Sometimes Always” will hit you hard with several restrained but undeniably powerful moments to haunt you, and I admire how it non-judgmental storytelling approach subtly lets the audiences reflect on its sensitive and relevant subjects.
During its first act, the movie slowly establishes how things have been not so good for Autumn Callahan (Sidney Flanigan), a 17-year-old female high school student in a rural town of Pennsylvania. As implied by one humiliating moment during her music performance in the middle of her high school event, her private life has been rather messy, and there is no one for her to talk or discuss with. While her mother is usually busy with supporting the family, her father is your average useless bum, and he does not even give a damn about why his daughter does not feel well after that humiliating moment.
Like her best friend Skylar (Talia Ryder), Autumn works in a local supermarket, and they have to deal with some rude males at their workplace. At one point, a male customer blatantly tries to flirt with Skylar, and you may wince as she tries to remain professional in front of this prick. When their worktime is over, they also endure a minor moment of sexual harassment due to their creepy male boss, and we come to gather from this very uncomfortable moment that they have tolerated this loathsome dude for a long time.
Meanwhile, Autumn discovers that she has a serious problem to deal with right now. After sensing some significant change in her body, she visits a local woman’s clinic, and, not so surprisingly, she comes to find that she has been pregnant. She is notified that it has been around 10 weeks since she got pregnant, and she is willing to have an abortion as soon as possible, but she is only told that she should consider the other options including adaption. In fact, her doctor even shows her one of those terrible anti-abortion videos just for persuading Autumn to change her mind.
Nevertheless, as a girl who clearly feels and knows that she cannot have or raise a baby under her difficult situation, Autumn tries to find any possible way to have an abortion. Unfortunately, the state law demands that she should get the consent from her parents first, and telling her parents about her pregnancy is the last thing she wants to do right now. Becoming more desperate than before, she even tries a few crude ways of inducing abortion, but, of course, she miserably fails.
In the end, the only option for Autumn is going to New York City, where she may easily have a legal abortion due to its more progressive state law. After stealing some money from their workplace, Autumn and Skylar, who instantly stands by her once she discovers her best friend’s pregnancy, get on a bus to New York City, and that is the beginning of their journey, which, as some of you have already guessed, turns out to be longer than they imagined.
Although the environment for her abortion is surely better in New York City, Autumn soon comes across a series of serious setbacks. It turns out that she cannot have an abortion right now because of not only her actual physical condition but also a long series of legal and medical procedures, and she and Skylar understandably become more frustrated and exasperated while trying to stay longer in the city despite their decreasing finance.
While their situation eventually becomes more despairing during its last act, the movie is at least far from that gloomy hellish world of illegal abortion depicted in Romanian film “4 Weeks, 3 Months and 2 Days” (2007), which also incidentally revolves around two young women desperately seeking an abortion for one of them. Although strictly sticking to their legal and medical procedures, the people at an abortion clinic in New York City are compassionate and sympathetic at least, and there is a very good scene where a social worker tactfully handles Autumn while throwing rather hard questions one by one as demanded by her procedure. During this scene where the title of the movie is frequently mentioned, the camera of cinematographer Hélène Louvart, who previously collaborated with Hittman in “Beach Rats” (2017), mostly stares at Autumn’s face from its static position, but we still can sense that she is receiving some compassion and understanding from that social worker even while struggling to answer to some of those hard questions given to her.
Hittman and her crew members deftly establish the unadorned realistic background along with considerable verisimilitude, and she also draws two strong performances from her two main performers, who diligently carry the film together through their rich natural performance. While newcomer Sidney Flanigan deserves to be compared with Jennifer Lawrence in “Winter’s Bone” (2010) or Thomasin McKenzie in “Leave No Trace” (2018), her fellow newcomer Talia Ryder is also terrific as complementing well her co-star, and it is often touching to see how their characters keep standing by each other as going some ups and downs along the story.
On the whole, “Never Rarely Sometimes Always”, which won the Special Jury Award for Neo-Realism when it had a premiere at the Sundance Film Festival early in this year and then also won the Silver Bear Grand Jury Prize at the Berlin International Film Festival, is unforgettable in many aspects. With this movie and “Beach Rats”, Hittman demonstrates that she is indeed a very talented filmmaker, and I will be excited to see her next career moves in the future.