One of 2020’s most vital dramas.
No one would blame you for staying away from films that will make you reach for the Kleenex this year, but Eliza Hittman’s third film and Silver Bear Grand Jury Prize winner Never Rarely Sometimes Always is well worth punishing your tear ducts for. The director addresses the topic of a woman’s right to choose with veracity and great empathy through the story of 17-year old Autumn (Sidney Flanigan), who learns that parental consent is required for an underage girl to have an abortion in the state of Pennsylvania. She decides to embark on a journey to New York City, accompanied by her cousin Skylar (Talia Ryder), where she hopes to find a clinic that can terminate her unintended pregnancy.
Despite the troubling reality of reproductive rights in America today, Never Rarely Sometimes Always steers clear of any overt political messages, and never gratuitously seeks to shock the viewer; Hittman prefers an immersive human drama over polemic and her an intimate snapshot is a more powerful film for it. A striking element throughout is the sparseness of dialogue, leaving brilliant newcomers Sidney Flanigan and Talia Ryder to convey the unspoken bond their characters share through micro-expressions. Hittman is more interested in the seemingly minor gestures that actually feel enormous, and trusts her actors to movingly speak volumes by leaving unsaid what can’t be spoken out loud. The results are devastating. The centrepiece scene that gives the film its title is one of the most impactful you’ll see all year and shows the power of subtle facial suggestions as opposed to grandstanding speeches: the static camera observes Autumn as she is asked a series of personal and increasingly forensic questions, revealing through the story of one young woman how countless others are faced with trauma and abuse, as well as unfairly-rigged systems that endanger not only their rights but pose a threat to their health.
After It Felt Like Love and Beach Rats, Never Rarely Sometimes Always continues to show how subtly and accurately Hittman chronicles American youth, without ever talking down to her subjects, falling into any controversial trappings one might expect from an “issue film”, or resulting to moralising. Most of all, she’s made one of 2020’s most vital dramas.
Never Rarely Sometimes Always / Directed by Eliza Hittman (US 2020), with Sidney Flanigan, Talia Ryder. Starts October 01.