Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Never Rarely Sometimes Always


Written and directed by Eliza Hittman, Never Rarely Sometimes Always is the story of two teenage cousins who travel from Pennsylvania to New York City to seek help over the pregnancy of one of the cousins. The film is an exploration of a young woman dealing with being pregnant at age 17 as she seeks the help of her cousin as they try to figure out what to do. Starring Sidney Flanigan, Talia Ryder, Theodore Pellerin, Ryan Eggold, and Sharon Van Etten. Never Rarely Sometimes Always is an evocative and riveting film from Eliza Hittman.

The film is the simple story of a 17-year old girl who travels to New York City with her cousin from Pennsylvania as she seeks to have an abortion without the knowledge of her parents as she deals with not just uncertainty but also the overwhelming journey to get the abortion. It is a film with a simple premise as it explores the plight of this young woman who is 10 weeks into her pregnancy as her parents don’t know about it where writer/director Eliza Hittman showcases the life of Autumn Callahan (Sidney Flanigan) as she deals with feeling ill and learns that she is pregnant as she couldn’t tell her parents who are already busy dealing two younger kids. Autumn’s cousin Skylar (Talia Ryder), who is the same age, helps her out as they steal money from the grocery store they work at as they travel to New York City knowing that an abortion done at their home would put Autumn in serious trouble with her parents. Upon their arrival, they deal with not just trying to find a place to sleep but also cope with the little money they really have as well as the reality that Autumn has to face in not just money but also revelations about her own sexual history.

Hittman’s direction is straightforward as she doesn’t really aim for any kind of stylistic approach other than shoot the film with hand-held cameras to give it an air of realism. Shot on location on location in the state of Pennsylvania and New York City, Hittman doesn’t aim for a lot of wide shots in the film in favor of maintaining an intimacy in the film. The usage of the close-ups and medium shots play into not just Autumn’s plight and the situation she faces but also the journey she takes with Skylar who knows the trouble that Autumn is in as she is willing to help but also go to New York City. The film opens in an unconventional way with a school performance with kids wearing 1950s-inspired costumes with Autumn performing a folk song as it play into this growing isolation she’s dealing with. The scenes in New York City has this air of craziness in what Autumn and Skylar encounter as they would go to an abortion clinic as well as this air of uncertainty.

The film’s title refers to the answers Autumn has to give in these questions when she’s talking to a counselor at it is presented in this simple static close-up shot that goes on for minutes without the need to cut. It adds to the drama and anguish that Autumn is enduring and what she has to do to get this abortion as she and Skylar both realize that this procedure isn’t cheap. The film’s second half would have Skylar meet a young man in Jasper (Theodore Pellerin) who takes interest in her as Autumn watches close by with disgust as she is aware of what Skylar is about to go into. Even as Autumn has to cope with her own sexual history and what she has to endure where Hittman definitely doesn’t provide any easy answers as well as the fact that young women are under pressure to be sexually active as it relates to Skylar and her infatuation with Jasper. Overall, Hittman crafts a heart-wrenching yet intoxicating film about a 17-year old girl who travels to New York City with her cousin to get an abortion.

Cinematographer Helene Louvart does incredible work with the film’s cinematography as it emphasizes more on natural lighting and a raw tone that gives the film its realistic look. Editor Scott Cummings does brilliant work with the film’s editing as it straightforward with not a lot of stylish quick-cuts in favor of letting shots linger in order to play into the drama. Production designer Meredith Lippincott, with set decorator Brittany Henrickson and art director Tommy Love, does excellent work with the look of the home that Autumn lives in as well as a few of the places she and Skylar go to in New York City.

Costume designer Olga Mill does nice work with the film’s costumes as it is largely casual including the yellow hoodie-coat that Autumn wears. Sound designer Chris Foster does superb work with the sound as it play into the realistic atmosphere of the locations as well as how a room sounds to maintain its realistic tone. The film’s music by Julia Holter is fantastic for its mixture of ambient music and somber yet low-key orchestral texture that play into the drama while music supervisors Maggie Phillips and Christine Greene Roe largely feature a few classical music pieces, 50s covers for the film’s opening scene, a couple of karaoke performances of songs by A Flock of Seagulls and Gerry and the Pacemakers, and a folk song by Sharon Van Etten in the film’s final credits.

The casting by Geraldine Baron and Salome Oggenfuss is wonderful as it feature some notable small roles from Aurora Richards and Rose Elizabeth Richards as Autumn’s two younger sisters, Mia Dillon as a women’s center director in Pennsylvania, Carolina Espiro as a financial advisor at the New York clinic, Drew Seltzer as a creepy grocery manager, Kim Rios Lin as an anesthesiologist, Kelly Chapman as a sympathetic social worker at the New York clinic, and the duo of Sharon Van Etten and Ryan Eggold as Autumn’s parents. Theodore Pellerin is excellent as Jasper as 20-something man Autumn and Skylar meet whom the latter is attracted to as he helps them with money as well as having a good time with them including his own sexual interest in Skylar. Talia Ryder is incredible as Skylar as Autumn’s cousin who accompanies her to New York City as she does what she can to help Autumn while having her own interests that include Jasper. Finally, there’s Sidney Flanigan in a phenomenal performance as Autumn as this 17-year old girl who learns she is pregnant and knows she isn’t ready to be a mother as she deals with her journey as well as not telling her parents as it’s an understated yet raw performance from Flanigan.

Never Rarely Sometimes Always is a tremendous film from Eliza Hittman that features spectacular performances from Sidney Flanigan and Talia Ryder. Along with realistic yet ravishing presentation, a haunting music soundtrack, and its exploration of young woman dealing with the sexuality and its drawbacks as well as abortion. It is a film that showcases a young woman’s plight as well as the decision she’s made including the pressure of young girls being sexually active. In the end, Never Rarely Sometimes Always is a magnificent film from Eliza Hittman.

Eliza Hittman Films: (It Felt Like Love) – (Beach Rats)

© thevoid99 2021


Brittani Burnham said...

I'm glad you liked this! It's my favorite out of Eliza's films so far.

Katy said...

Nice review! I just finished watching this and it was a well-paced movie with solid drama that didn't go too overboard. The performances in particular were very moving and raw.

thevoid99 said...

@Brittani-I want to see more of Hittman's films as I was just amazed by it.

@Katy-It was better than I thought it would be as I enjoyed the pacing as it breezed by and I love how raw it is. This is a great film.