NEVER RARELY SOMETIMES ALWAYS
(director/writer: Eliza Hittman; cinematographer: Hélène Louvart; editor: Scott Cummings; music: Julia Holter; cast: Sidney Flanagan (Autumn), Talia Ryder (Skylar), Ryan Eggold (Autumn’s stepfather), Sharon Von Etten (Autumn’s mother), Théodore Pellerin (Jasper, Philly Hipster); Runtime: 101; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Adele Romanski, Sara Murphy; Focus Features; 2020-UK/USA)
“This rewarding indie richly tells us how a teenager from the sticks deals with her unexpected pregnancy.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Writer-director Eliza Hittman (“Beach Rats”/”It Felt Like Love”), in this rewarding indie, richly tells us how a teenager from the sticks deals with her unexpected pregnancy.
The 17-year-old high school student and part-time grocery clerk in a small-town in Pennsylvania named Autumn (Sidney Flanigan) lets her close friend cousin Skylar (Talia Ryder) know that she’s unexpectedly pregnant and that she wants an abortion. Since there’s no abortion services in her community without parental consent if under 18, the creative Skylar raises enough money for her to take the bus to NYC to get one. For support Skylar comes along.
In this observant sparse film, a love letter to women, we learn of Autumn’s everyday life at home in a blue-collar family–with her decent mom (Sharon Von Etten) and hostile step-dad (Ryan Eggold)– and her experiences in school. It seems that all the men encountered are either hostile or creeps. There’s even one male classmate who calls her a slut after watching her perform in a school play he thought was too risque.
We learn that the independent-minded Autumn tried unsuccessfully for a homemade abortion by punching herself in the stomach.
What the film lets us see for ourselves without speechifying is how divisive is the war on abortion on vulnerable poor females and how chilling it can be on young women who want one but live in a community whose conservative legislators wish to punish them for wanting one.
The abstract title is gotten from an interview session at a Planned Parenthood clinic, in Manhattan, where the title is taken from the answers to a counselor’s clinical questions to Autumn about her sexual history. Her answers will make her recall sexual abuse incidents in her past. The girls also are informed the procedure will take two days instead of one, which catches them by surprise and leaves them in the city for an extra day without enough money to find a place to stay and the embarrassment for the disillusioned Autumn having to ask for money home from a stranger (Théodore Pellerin) they met on the bus.
It’s a timely social conscience film that’s well-acted, well-executed, well-directed and especially pertinent in today’s pernicious Trump-era of railing against a woman who wants to have power over her own reproductive system. Hittman is sympathetic to the pregnant girl’s plight by sensitively telling her story without enhancing it.
If there’s a fault to the film, one that does a good job opening up a discussion over women’s rights, it’s that we don’t hear enough from the lead character about the angst she’s going through to get this medical procedure.
REVIEWED ON 3/15/2020 GRADE: A-