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With: Sidney Flanigan, Talia Ryder, Theodore Pellerin, Sharon Van Etten, Ryan Eggold
Written by: Eliza Hittman
Directed by: Eliza Hittman
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for disturbing/mature thematic content, language, some sexual references and teen drinking
Running Time: 101
Date: 04/03/2020

Never Rarely Sometimes Always (2020)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)


By Jeffrey M. Anderson

This incredible independent drama recalls Cristian Mungiu's 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (2007), in that it tells the story of two young women forced to take a dangerous journey to seek an abortion. But while that movie zeroed in on the harrowing details of its story, Eliza Hittman's Never Rarely Sometimes Always seems wiser about the situation and the societal factors that cause it to happen. The women in this film are sandwiched in-between predatory men and a prudish system that scorns abortion; the women are reduced to nothing more than sexual objects that can produce babies.

The story focuses on 17 year-old Autumn (Sidney Flanigan) who works with her cousin Skylar (Talia Ryder) at a market in a small Pennsylvania town. When they hand in the money from their registers at the end of a shift, the clerk on the other side of a safety window grabs their hands and kisses them. Autumn discovers she is pregnant, and when she asks about abortion, a woman at the clinic sighs and shows her a medieval-looking video. Given the reactions from her hostile father and her timid mother, she realizes she must go to New York. So Skylar — the prettier and bolder of the two — steals money from work and they take the train.

The appointment doesn't quite go as hoped. The small-town clinic apparently lied to Autumn about how far along she was, so the appointment becomes more complicated and requires more time. The girls must figure out how to spend the night in the city without spending all their money. A kid (Theodore Pellerin) who tried to ask out Skylar during the bus ride comes back into the picture, and Skylar does what needs to be done.

The title comes into play during a masterful sequence wherein Autumn is interviewed at the New York clinic. She is given a series of questions, and must respond with one of the four answers: "never," "rarely," "sometimes," or "always." Director Hittman holds the shot on Autumn's face for several minutes, as she shyly, shamefully reveals heartbreaking information about herself. These details are never mentioned at any other point in the movie, and they deepen and sadden Autumn's character for the rest of the movie.

Never Rarely Sometimes Always begins just as boldly, with Autumn singing "He's Got the Power," a 1963 song originally recorded by The Exciters, about the way men can get a stranglehold on women. Despite her courage, she receives jeers from the audience. However, whatever bravery it took her to get up on stage is nothing compared to what she faces when she comes back home from New York, her mission accomplished, but only more of the same to look forward to.

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