The topic of abortion has been a controversial one for decades, and broaching it in a work of art requires a delicate touch. If you push one ideology or the other too much, you not only alienate a portion of the audience, but you also run the risk of overlooking the story in favor of the message.
Never Rarely Sometimes Always toes that fine line with the story of Autumn (Sidney Flanigan), a 17-year-old from western Pennsylvania who gets pregnant. Unable to tell her family and chagrined by her treatment at a local health clinic, she and her cousin Skylar (Talia Ryder) make their way to New York City to try to get her an abortion.
The film, written and directed by Eliza Hittman, is about Autumn’s journey, but it comments on a variety of topics through that prism. They include a disparity in wealth, healthcare, and gender equality, along with the generally awful manner in which women are treated by men.
That last one is the most obvious, as Hittman shows men to be almost uniformly terrible. In the film, they come in the form of the unknown male who got her pregnant; an inattentive and unloving father; a creepy manager at the grocery store where she works; a boorish customer who hits on her cousin; an overbearing guy on the bus to New York; and a man who masturbates in front of them on the subway. Not one man with a speaking role comes off well, a true lambasting if ever there was one.
But the mistreatment of Autumn and Skylar by men is merely a layer of the story, a highly emotional one that highlights just how difficult getting an abortion can be for someone like Autumn. The hoops that she has to jump through, the starting and re-starting of the process, and the uncertainty surrounding the whole thing make it a harrowing tale, especially if you’ve never been in the shoes of someone like her.
Flanigan and Ryder, both of whom are making their feature film debuts, are each compelling in their own ways. Flanigan portrays Autumn as timid and somewhat unemotional, so any moments that go against those traits make her stand out. Ryder is a tremendous supporting actor, and the way she deals with unwanted male attention is a masterclass in subtlety.
Never Rarely Sometimes Always is a rewarding watch for anyone looking for a great story and terrific acting by two up-and-coming performers. Given the lack of theatrical releases in the coming months, film lovers would be wise to spend some time with one of the best movies of 2020 so far.
Never Rarely Sometimes Always will be available on April 3 for streaming and on-demand on platforms like Prime Video, Apple TV, Xfinity, Vudu, Google Play, and Fandango Now.