Eliza Hittman’s third film Never Rarely Sometimes Always is a hugely impressive drama that – before the shutdown of cinemas – had made huge waves at film festivals. Launching at Sundance, where it won a Special Jury Award for Neo-Realism, it then made its European bow at the Berlin Film Festival and promptly was awarded the Grand Jury Prize. Assuming there will be an awards season later this year, Hittman’s film deserves to be in contention.
A nuanced tale that circles around the abortion debate, it tells of Autumn (Sidney Flanigan), a 17 year-old from Pennsylvania who discovers she’s pregnant. We learn little about the background of her sexual encounter, but by the fact she’s seen at school throwing a drink over a male student, it’s clearly been a less than happy experience. She resolves to head to New York with her cousin Skylar (Talia Ryder) where she can get an abortion without parental consent.
Their journey is an excruciating one at times. The plan is to go there and back in a day, but bureaucracy and medical issues get in the way, meaning the girls – with little money and nowhere to stay – need to make do. They receive help from Jasper (Théodore Pellerin), an older boy who takes a shine to Skylar but clearly expects something in return. Thrust into an adult world, it’s a harsh lesson the girls must learn.
Hitman, who previously made the gay-themed Beach Rats with British newcomer Harris Dickinson, clearly has an eye for casting. And both Flanigan and Ryder, who has since featured in Steven Spielberg’s upcoming West Side Story remake, are marvellous. Shot with real care and restraint, and acted in the same way, you can’t help but live every painful step of this voyage with Autumn and Skylar.
As a frank look at the difficulties young women have in taking ownership over their reproductive systems, it’s an impressive and meaty piece. Taking its title from a particularly troubling scene, as Autumn is subjected to a questionnaire about her experiences at the abortion clinic, it’s a frank reminder of the difficulties and pitfalls of growing up.
Never Rarely Sometimes Always is available to stream on Amazon Prime and iTunes. For more details, click here.