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'Never Rarely Sometimes Always' Review: Eliza Hittman's abortion drama carries a sophisticated power

A 17-year-old girl trying to have an abortion in New York serves up a humanistic reminder of humanity's toughest strength and most indelible weakness.
Credit: Focus Features
NRSA_R2_1.1.20_1.1.20 Sidney Flanigan stars as Autumn in NEVER RARELY SOMETIMES ALWAYS, a Focus Features release. Credit: Courtesy of Focus Features

ST. LOUIS — Autumn Flanigan (Sidney Flanigan) is a 17-year-old girl seeking out an abortion in New York City. A Pennsylvania native who cobbled together just enough money and support from her best friend/cousin to make it work. She hasn't told her her mom about anything and no, she doesn't want to talk about adoption. Autumn wants out, and that is the juice of Eliza Hittman's new film, "Never Rarely Sometimes Always" that viewers from both sides of the controversial issue need to accept in order to appreciate this film.

The title of the film is drawn from those uncomfortable questions that the clinics ask young people whose conscience won't accept denial. They are drawing conclusions out of likelihood from the most random of answers provided by the patients. But the great thing about Hittman's film is that it is not preachy. In fact, it says so much without having to preach at all.

The messages and morals wrestled with here are aggressively normal and serve a humanistic reminder of human being's toughest strength and indelible weakness. There's nothing flashy or stylistic here. Autumn runs into people who reject her freedom of choice, but it's never handled in a loud, showy scene. The credits of the film aren't painted in crimson lipstick and the color palette for this film resembles the eve of a thunderstorm. Hittman's direction is composed and straightforward, which can also be said for her script as well.

Flanigan is our moral compass throughout the entirety. She is in every single scene of the film. Other people leave the scene, but not Autumn. The setting doesn't shift with her, and the focus of the film never leaves her shadow's bodyguard. Her dilemma isn't given extra melodrama or a louder score. Most of the weight of this film's impact is understated, so it stays with you longer.

The emotional impact of the film is deceptively powerful. It sneaks up and floors in scenes where Autumn is abusing herself in trying to create a miscarriage. Another scene gathers steam and strength as the conversation between Autumn and a doctor at the clinic go over her history.

The 100 minutes don't fly by, but they manage to stay away from making you restless. It's Autumn, her cousin (Talia Ryder), and a few other faces the girls encounter. A simplistic yet layered movie that doesn't try to do too much.

I am both surprised and mellowly relieved that this is Flanigan's first gig. She still retains a fair portion of innocence in her screen presence that gives off the impression the camera and her face are just getting acquainted. There are no comparable roles to test this one against, she owns the story more than the screen here. Ryder offers fine support as the loyal Skylar, someone who offers all levels of support and aide to Autumn during her journey.

Watching these two girls kill some time in the sleepless streets of the Big Apple, getting to be teenager girls for once and shed responsibility for a few hours before attaining it again in the morning is a pleasure to see onscreen. Give me a couple of people drifting through a lively city while most of it sleeps and I am in cinematic candy land.

I wasn't floored by Hittman's film, but the intent made a direct hit. This is the kind of slow-moving yet insightfulness that attacks the head and the heart.

The characters in the film are sophisticated, just like Hittman's movie. It is a timely film that should haunt you while it giving you hope. It starts a conversation without inciting a war. We've all got secrets to hide in our "Never Rarely Sometimes Always" pasts and presents, but the end of the day should be fine as long as we have freedom and time.

I recommend this film. It's available on demand starting this weekend via Focus Features.

ST. LOUIS - Please don't try to compare the two. It's just a waste of breath. This weekend, I will watch at least three screeners on my couch. Those are new releases sent to me by the studio or distribution company via email with the only request being a review written on this website.

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