by Josh Silva
Graphic by Yiying Zhang
Eliza Hittman’s third feature tells the story of Autumn (Sidney Flanigan)’s attempts to get an abortion. Accompanied by her friend/coworker Skylar (Talia Ryder) and without the knowledge of her aloof parents, she treks from her rural Pennsylvanian hometown to New York City.
So common are the events in this film, but so rarely are they depicted due to their unglamorous and unmarketable – especially to a male audience – qualities. Hittman, however, approaches the subject head-on with a warts-and-all, unflinching portrait carried exceptionally by Sidney Flanigan’s unpretentious and painfully vulnerable performance. The film relies heavily on her conveying a myriad of emotions without saying a word, and she disappears so completely into her character that the suppressed feelings are as palpable as the physical objects on screen. Seeing teenagers on film who have genuine interiority and don’t endlessly quip is a breath of fresh air.
Her performance is complemented by the unobtrusive direction, which quietly facilitates the emotions by filming her in direct closeups. The muted blue and brown color pallet, shot on a grainy 16mm, conveys Autumn’s loneliness and isolation without being too obvious. The film’s tactility is felt in the most cringe-inducing moments, including one early on in which Autumn pierces her own nose, shown from beginning to end, as well as in the most touching ones. A pivotal scene, filmed in one static, unbroken closeup, takes a relatably mundane interaction and turns it into a heart-breaking confession entirely through implication and facial expressions.
Flanigan’s talents, however, are not shared by all of the supporting cast. Talia Ryder, though not bad in her own right, has limited chemistry with Flanigan, undermining the effects of a few touching scenes. Autumn’s surroundings, as well as her past and future, are vague and thinly drawn to leave room for her internal strife. While this is deliberate, it did leave me wanting more.
Never Rarely Sometimes Always is, and will probably continue to be, a topical film. Yet it’s not concerned with its own political relevance. Instead, America’s oppressive societal norms are shown as one girl’s personal struggle.