Courtesy of Focus Features
There’s no question about abortion being a hot button topic and one of the most divisive and controversial political agendas out there (the irony being that most of those who hold influential political clout will probably never face such adversity) but in the emotionally poignant and powerful drama “Never Rarely Sometimes Always” director Eliza Hittman dares to shift the perspective on the subject to a singular teenager exploring her limited options. The beauty is, this deeply personal flick isn’t meant to scare or provoke those who find the subject sensitive, but to present the topic as is, raw and uncensored. One could argue the film could be making a political statement or drawing a line in the sand, but I’d argue it’s presenting the facts in real time and serving as a lifeline for those who have questions on the process.
I reach this conclusion because “Always” steers clear of any and all agendas, and instead wants to give audiences a realistic protagonist and asks us to find compassion towards those facing these decisions. Enter 17-year-old Autumn (Sidney Flanigan) of which the film is centralized around and who we follow on her journey to terminate an unwanted pregnancy. We see the roadblocks she faces in her small Pennsylvania town with the nurses constantly asking if she is “abortion minded” while handing out cheesy pamphlets, and the state requires that a minor must have parental consent to approve the procedure. That’s the last thing she wants as her estranged and distant parents offer little in the way of support, even before she found herself in this situation.
Hitman, though, is wise not to overindulge in the subject matter and doesn’t come close to exploiting teen pregnancy and abortion, and instead chooses to deepen Autumn in every scene. Whether it’s her decision to give herself a homemade nose piercing to win back some self-esteem after being rejected countless times or the subtle nuances that hint at what lead to the unwanted pregnancy to begin with, “Always” makes sure we’re invested with this character every step of the way. The writer/director also strikes another tone with the toxic and sleazy men who roam in the background, especially as Autumn and her cousin Skylar (Talia Ryder) contend with their bosses at a grocery store each night as they disgustingly attempt to kiss their hands after all the money has been counted. Despite Skylar not going through the same thing as her cousin, these are both young women who are preyed upon and seen as objects for transactional natures than actual human beings. This motif is only heightened when the two make the journey to New York City and have some close encounters with a stranger named Jasper (Theodore Pellerin) whose intentions seem a bit iffy, followed by a grueling encounter on the subway later that evening.
Shot in long close-ups with continuous takes at a time, “Always” feels authentic with cinematographer Helen Louvart doing a miraculous job at keeping us connected with Autumn’s gestures and displays while never losing sight of her perspective. In another carefully considered show of emotion, when the abortion does occur, we don’t see the procedure, which is the right play as to not manipulate audience members. And in the film’s most heart wrenching sequence (of which the movie’s title is explained) Louvart keeps the camera glued on Flanigan as she’s asked a series of intimately personal details about her sex and home life by the doctor. It’s in this scene where we see Flanigan – in her first acting role – cements herself as one of the top rising stars of the year.
Over three films, Hittman has been keen in exploring the struggles of adolescence and though “Never Rarely Sometimes Always” walks a narrow and edgy path, it’s by far the director’s most personal film to date. Granted, the moral and ethical debate on abortion will rage on, the key factor to remember is “Always” focuses on one specific person’s battle with the rights to their own body. By making the film with that delicate narrative structure in mind (not to mention Hittman’s own touch of grace and sincerity) ”Always” doesn't just invite us to understand these procedures in place, it gives young women a voice they might not have otherwise felt they had.
NEVER RARELY SOMETIMES ALWAYS was originally set to be released theatrically March 27th but Focus Features has decided the film will be available to rent on premium video on demand starting Friday April 4th in light of the COVID-19 outbreak.