Autumn Callahan (Sidney Flanigan) is a seventeen-year-old from a small town in Pennsylvania. She lives with her mother and siblings. She also lives with her stepfather who is a negative influence. She is still at school and works at a grocery store with her cousin Skylar (Talia Ryder).
Autumn goes to a crisis pregnancy center. She is surprised to discover she is as much as ten weeks pregnant. She doesn’t want a child. According to Pennsylvania law she is unable to have an abortion as a minor unless she has parental permission. She pursues other options until she and Skylar work out a way to travel to New York City. Once there, Autumn visits a Planned Parenthood clinic and has to decide how to proceed once she discovers the information she received at crisis pregnancy center was incomplete
NEVER RARELY SOMETIMES ALWAYS is a quiet film that uses an observational style to put us right at the side of the protagonist. Autumn comes from a family and a community where people are supposed to accept their circumstances. She never explains what she is going through to anyone. Her fears and other emotions are hers alone. Not even Skyler, who she is closest to, is privy to her complete story. Sharing and self-expression are not part of this picture. Her mother isn’t the person she is going to lean on. There’s something about the stepfather that makes it clear that her mother will let things slide and make do. Autumn sees her situation as a problem that needs resolving and, in her 17-year-old way, she sets about doing that.
New York City is very different to Autumn and Skylar’s hometown. Getting out of there suits them both, but Autumn needs to be focussed on following through with her plan because she can’t envision the alternative as a future for her. Skylar’s attention is partly taken up by a young man called Jasper (Théodore Pellerin) , whom they meet on the bus. He is a student, who has a band and gives Skylar his number.
The events that unfold in this film are in one way, quite straightforward. Autumn has to deal with a large challenge and we follow that journey. Writer-director Eliza Hittman has chosen to intertwine many small details throughout the film that speak of larger issues. The behaviour of men and boys towards these young women is, for the most part, negative. They don’t have a lot of power and there’s always someone attempting something sexual. This they hate, but live with, because it is the world they have lived in their entire lives.
The same goes for the parts of the health system that Autumn encounters. Not all the people involved in the process of getting an abortion have the woman’s needs in mind. Anti-abortion campaigning has made the process a series of obstacles that women have to traverse. Autumn is forced to go through all of this because of her age, but also because she is undereducated and poor. Hittman is not overt in saying any of this, but as we follow Autumn it is very likely you will be on her side. Ultimately, this movie clearly advocates for Autumn’s choices and the choices of all women dealing with the American health system. This is not a film made for those who are anti-abortion.
NEVER RARELY SOMETIMES ALWAYS seems to have a terrible title if you have never dealt with what are responses for a certain type of multiple-choice questionnaire. Hittman makes it obvious why this is the title in a powerful scene in the last section of the film. Sidney Flanigan performs Autumn with sustained excellence. The character is submerged and not even known to herself, but the actor, the director and cinematographer Hélène Louvart shows us someone who resonates and whom we will recognise.
NEVER RARELY SOMETIMES ALWAYS is an everyday story told in a powerful way, Sidney Flanigan’s performance of this overwhelmed young woman is the compelling centre of this uncompromising drama. She and Talia Ryder create characters who have little, but are sustained by their friendship and youthful hope.
Running time: 101 minutes. Rating: 8/10