26-02-2020

FNE at Berlinale 2020: Review: Never Rarely Sometimes Always

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Never Rarely Sometimes Always by Eliza Hittman Never Rarely Sometimes Always by Eliza Hittman

BERLIN: American director Eliza Hittman takes on the issue of teenage pregnancy and abortion in here lately film Never Rarely Sometimes Always which is screening in the main competition in Berlin this year. Hittman also wrote the script for this topical look at teenagers and the problems and choices they face.  Her previous films Beach Rats and It Felt Like Love also have tackled youth and anxiety but none so successfully as Never Rarely Sometimes Always.

Set in small town Pennsylvania we see the world through the eyes of 17-year-old Autumn played by Sidney Flanigan and her cousin Skylar played by Talia Ryder.  Autumn is a typical teenager and Hittman introduces us to the feelings and concerns she has with economy and precise action. We start out with Autumn singing at a high school talent show where a boy in the audience shouts “slut” at her.  Another scene introduces her parents her mother played by Sharon Van Etten and her step-father played by Ryan Eggold.  The small family are sharing a meal at a local pizza place.  Her mother tries to be supportive while her step-father is obviously fed-up with Autumn who is introverted and cold with him.  The claustrophobia of small town life is brought home when we see that the same boy who heckled her at the talent show is sitting nearby in the same café.

It is already clear Autumn is not going to be able to find the help or support she needs from her mother and father so when we see her examining the bump on her belly that means she is pregnant it is to her cousin Skylar that she turns.  At first Autumn tries to get help at a local clinic but it is clear that the nurses and staff there do not really want to allow her to have an abortion.  She then tries to abort the baby herself with pretty frightening results.  In the end she turns to her cousin Skylar for help. The two girls decide that they will have to take off for New York to get the abortion Autumn has decided on.

Since neither girl has any money Skylar steals some money from the cash register where she works and the two girls take a bus for New York.  But when they get there they find that what they thought would be a simply one-day procedure is not so easy and that Autumn is further along in her pregnancy that she thought.

As the girls seek help and fill in bureaucratic forms we encounter the multiple choice Never Rarely Sometimes Always Autumn is faced with from which the film takes its name.  As the two girls try to navigate the bureaucracy and find they do not have enough money to stay in New York long enough to wait for the abortion they go through some harrowing experiences.

This could have been just another melodrama but Hittman draws extraordinary performances from her two young actresses and she never let’s us lose sight of the fact that this is a story that far from being an extraordinary tragedy is something that is faced by teenage girls in America all too often.

Never Rarely Sometimes Always (USA)
Directed by Eliza Hittman
Cast: Sidney Flanigan, Talia Ryder, Théodore Pellerin, Ryan Eggold, Sharon Van Etten