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Never Rarely Sometimes Always review
A pregnant teen travels to New York City in hopes of having an abortion.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Eliza Hittman

Starring: Sidney Flanigan, Talia Ryder, Théodore Pellerin, Ryan Eggold, Sharon Van Etten

never rarely sometimes always poster

"A positive is always a positive!" So states a women's clinic worker when Autumn Callahan (the revelatory Sidney Flanigan) queries the veracity of the pregnancy test she just took. The not so professional medical professional is saying that such tests never lie, but she's also revealing her own opinions regarding the merits of pregnancy. Later, when administering a scan of Autumn's ever-growing tummy, she beams about how healthy the baby is. Trouble is, Autumn doesn't want the baby. She's 17, and there's no father on the scene willing to play his part. When Autumn reveals that she's considering an abortion, she's subjected to a video of anti-choice propaganda. Besides, in her home state of Pennsylvania, a girl under the age of 18 can't have an abortion without her parents' consent.

Following some desperate and misguided attempts to induce a miscarriage, Autumn does some googling and learns that the neighbouring state of New York allows underage girls to have abortions in secret from their parents. Joined by her more streetwise, but still quite naive cousin Skylar (Talia Ryder) - with whom she shares the best type of friendship, where you don't feel the need to talk to each other at all times - Autumn takes a bus to New York City with hopes of a quick and hassle free procedure, but finds that things aren't as straightforward as all that.

never rarely sometimes always review

Ever since the late 1960s, New York City has regularly been portrayed onscreen as an intimidating, cold and cruel metropolis that crushes the hopes and dreams of those who travel there. Of course, in recent decades NYC has transformed from the violent, garbage riddled city of the '70s and '80s into a Disneyfied, tourist friendly city, a far cry from the Big Apple of Death Wish and Taxi Driver. In writer/director Eliza Hittman's film, NYC is a welcoming urban sanctuary away from the oppressive, twisted morality of Autumn's Pennsylvanian hometown. The workers she encounters in the abortion clinic are sympathetic rather than judgemental, making it clear that Autumn's wishes are paramount. When the origin of the movie's title is revealed as the answers of an intrusive but well-meaning test designed to figure out if Autumn is a victim of abuse, her silence and tears give us an all too revealing fifth answer.

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The stress of the red tape around her procedure aside, Autumn's brief stay in NYC gives her time to breathe. What awaits her on her return home is left largely ambiguous, as is the identity of the father. Could it be her own (step?)father (Ryan Eggold), whose public coldness to his daughter in his wife's presence seems a little too forced? Or her boss (Drew Seltzer) at her supermarket job, who insists on kissing the hands of his female employees as they pass their shift's takings under a slot into his office? Or any one of her obnoxious male classmates, whom we see making lewd gestures and interrupting her solo performance at a school talent show? None of them are the sort of male figures you would want raising a child.

never rarely sometimes always review

What's admirable about Never Rarely Sometimes Always is how it recognises that Autumn is similarly too immature to bring a child into this world. Would we want a kid raised by someone who pierces her nose with a hot safety pin, a procedure we watch Autumn self-administer in an early scene? Autumn is a typical 17-year-old, with all the naivete that entails. In a head-smacking moment that makes us want to reach into the screen and shake her, Autumn turns down the clinic's offer of a place to spend the night, instead thinking she can hang out in a bus station until morning. Hittman doesn't scold her young protagonist for such flaws, she simply recognises that she's still practically a kid. I don't know about you, but I could barely tie my shoelaces at 17.

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But to Autumn's credit, she's smart enough to recognise that she's not yet fit for motherhood, which makes her smarter than the average bear. To use a Jaws analogy, very few of us can be Richard Dreyfuss, the well-educated authority, but there's no excuse for us not accepting that we're Roy Scheider and letting the experts take command. Where maternity is concerned, Autumn sensibly takes the Scheider option, unlike so many girls in her position who opt to be Robert Shaw and end up getting metaphorically chewed up by motherhood.

never rarely sometimes always review

Mainstream Hollywood's recent answer to criticism of a lack of good roles for women has been to present us with heroic (often superheroic) women whose inflated standards few real women could even reach for. Thank the stars for the independent sector, which is giving us women protagonists that we can relate with regardless of our gender or shared cultures. Real women, with flaws and worries and insecurities, who don't possess superhuman strength or the ability to deliver an emasculating wisecrack at just the right moment. Women like Autumn.

Hollywood revisionism aside, not everyone gets to be a Jedi, and not every woman is cut out for motherhood. Maybe for Autumn, now's just not a good time. Perhaps in a few years she'll be in a position to raise a kid on her own terms. But with conservative Christians growing increasingly powerful in American politics, will she still have the power to make that choice for herself?

Never Rarely Sometimes Always is on Netflix UK/ROI now.