A Film about Humanity and Life
DIRECTED BY ELIZA HITTMAN/ 2020
In Never Rarely Sometimes Always, Autumn (Sydney Flanigan) isn’t making the hardest decision she’ll ever make, having an abortion or not. The decision is actually not that hard for her and it is what she wants. And as some other films or books will treat the process of terminating a pregnancy, the conflict doesn’t rest on doing what she thinks is right or not, the conflict comes in doing what is constitutionally her right over the barriers that others have set up who have decided it’s wrong for her.
Autumn lives in small town Pennsylvania. The film starts with her at a talent show, pouring her heart out into a song she is singing, and being called a slut but some random guy in the crowd. We follow Autumn to a dinner celebration afterwards with her family. Her father is absolutely not supportive of much in Autumn’s life and seems to have a cold relationship with the family.
Her mother (played by the uber-talented musician Sharon Van Etten), tries harder to be there for her daughter. In fact, if it wasn’t for her father’s sullenness reigning down on the family, the easy solution for Autumn’s unwanted pregnancy would have been to turn to her mother. But Never Rarely Sometimes Always is not about easy solutions, because getting an abortion is far from one in America, but is rather about the patriarchal structure we have set up that needs to be climbed for women to get what legally is granted for them.
Luckily for Autumn, she does have a very supportive family member, her cousin, Skyla (Talia Ryder). They work together in a supermarket, with a creepy boss who is a few years older than them who kisses their hands every night while they turn in their nightly deposits. Skyla is close to Autumn and they seem to understand that they are the only ones the other can turn to.
At their local clinic, the nice elderly lady gives Autumn a pregnancy test that was just bought from the store, misdiagnoses how far along Autumn is in her pregnancy and when the subject of abortion comes up, she plays Autumn a video about the evils of the act.
Autumn then realizes this isn’t going to be done in her hometown, and she and Skylar depart on a trip to New York. Together they embark on guys hitting on them on buses, drunk businessmen masturbating on subways and protesters who meet them while walking in. They also run into bureaucratic restrictions and medical delays they weren’t expecting.
This is a movie about women supporting each other, because they are up against society. It’s also about empathy and not losing site of the individuals stuck in the middle of a culture war you have been programmed to believe the other side are murderers.
One of my favorite things is when a film examines poverty and equates what should be a simple mission to grander adventures. Winter’s Bone is one of my favorite examples. And the way Never Rarely Sometimes Always makes what should be an easy trip to a neighboring state to get a legal operation look like a Lord of the Rings-like journey helps drive home the point that life is harder when you’re constantly fighting your way up.