Never Rarely Sometimes Always (2020): Film Review
The MPAA has made a lot of bad decisions over the years when it comes to rating films. More often than not these days we see stories that everyone needs to see labeled with a single letter that often destroys a film's chances of having appeal to an important demographic that is often only left big studio blockbusters and mainstream films: the letter R. This letter create a big controversy in the film world when attached to Bo Burnham's excellent Eighth Grade, and has made a list of important and powerful movies unattainable to the age-group that would feel most impacted by the content on screen. Thankfully, though, the association got one thing right: rating Eliza Hittman's newest film, Never Rarely Sometimes Always, PG-13. This is a movie that rings powerful no matter what age you are, and tells a story that needs to be told. And for that, and so much more, it proved to be like nothing I had ever seen before in the 2020 film slate so far. The film tells the story of Autumn (Sidney Flaniagan), a seventeen year-old girl living in rural Pennsylvania dealing with an unexpected pregnancy. Through gorgeous cinematography and 16mm film, we follow Autumn as her and her cousin Skylar (Talia Ryder) travel to New York City to get an abortion, due to the laws regarding minors in Pennsylvania. Through their trip, the audience learns more about Autumn and Skylar's friendship, the power of choice, and how the weight of the world can affect a person. The film is harrowing, powerful beyond belief, and one of the most important movies cinema has received in a long time. The beauty of Never Rarely Sometimes Always lies in the writing, the direction, and the performances - while the story may play like a simple one-dimensional tale to some, there is so much hidden meaning and value within the film, that treats the viewer as a sponge of sorts, fully sinking the more time a person sends interpreting the movie, rather than just watching. It's hard to watch a film such as this one and continue on with your day, because there is so much that requires a lot of critical thinking to comprehend, things that may seem unimportant, and at times, unnecessary, during the film itself. That is the beauty of Hittman's script, so simple, yet powerful beyond comprehension. This is a film about it's protagonist, the importance of her journey, and the power of her choice. The script makes that incredibly clear, and refines those ideas in new ways that make for an impactful movie watching experience. Secondly, within the first few seconds of the film, it becomes quite obvious that Hittman's skills don't just live in her delicate and powerful scripts. The filmmaking is so simple, yet oddly athletic. Due to the 16mm film and the way the film is shot, it almost feels as if we are only Autumn's journey with her, watching her as she and Skylar make their way around New York City, trying to balance budgets and stay safe. The direction makes the film feel more personal, which short-term and long-term, makes for a more powerful and lasting movie. But, it's acting newcomers Sidney Flanigan and Talia Ryder's performances that truly make this film what it is. From the moment we meet Autumn on the stage of her school talent show, we see nothing but a wide array of emotions, each tailored to the moment they are surrounded by. These emotions are expressed in a perfect way by Flanigan, who sinks into the role quite easily and interprets her character the way she is written in the script: as someone who is shy, nervous, and young. Spoilers aside, when the titular "Never Rarely Sometimes Always" scene comes to fruition, Flanigan proves why her performance is so amazingly crafted, and why this is a performance that will be talked about for years to come. Similar, Ryder gives her all as well, using her character as a support for Autumn and delivering compassion and heart in all of her lines. The two essentially blend in as everyday people, but they do it so masterfully and effectively that it feels like something that hasn't been accomplished by many actors and actresses. And that's the thing about this film: it's not as expensive as a big-budget film. Yet, it's so much more accomplished in it's storytelling, direction, and performances - because there is so much value in telling a story like this. There is so much importance in telling a story like this. It's really a beautiful film. I truly hope this film does not go under the radar. After a successful bow at Sundance, it had the unfortunate scheduling of opening back in March a week before the mass theater shutdowns, and didn't achieve what it deserved at the box office. It is now available to rent on rental platforms, for a hefty price tag of 20 dollars, but I really hope this film gets the love it deserves. Because twenty minutes in, upon so many things, something becomes clear: we need more movies like this, simple as that. We have 2020's first true winner of a film, and four months into the year, I know that this will be the best of the year lists come December. And for what it's worth, I've never felt so confident about anything.