Eliza Hittman‘s Never Rarely Sometimes Always is a tough watch—not because of distressed theme or challenging nature, but because of the familiarity of its theme and how close it is to the ground. The title refers to options usually employed in Likert-scale questionnaires to measure attitude with nuance. In this case, those word collections refer to the questionnaire asked in a crisis pregnancy clinic sympathetically unraveling the protagonist’s sexual activities preceding the story’s bleak topic: unwanted teenage pregnancy.
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The protagonist is a 17-y.o Pennsylvanian girl, Autumn (portrayed with calm nuance by newcomer, Sidney Flanigan), who finds herself a few week pregnant. All she knows is: she’s not prepared for parental duties; in fact, she’s still struggling discovering her own voice and exasperation. People around her think of her as “in certain mood” like some manic girls’ behavior which she lashes out in songs and, palpably, rudeness. Hittman‘s script suggests that Autumn fits people’s description while, at the same time, hints on zillions of feelings suppressed underneath. Her lyrics scream out her vulnerability and her violent reactions toward coarse men’s behavior resonate what’s been hiding. For all we know, she’s enraged and confused, therefore, she attempts to enlist help from local pregnancy center for an abortion; but, certainly, things would not go easy on her in the process.
Hittman slowly builds the story upon hints and repressed emotions, at the same time, she opens an unbiased, classic pro-life and pro-choice discourse without judging and weighing in on any of them. Her script treats Autumn as a real human girl with real human conflicts and real human emotions. She’s not some made-up character functioning as a mere example or model. It’s only natural if she’s looking up for a more feasible solution that favors her when she learns that abortions in Pennsylvania requires parents’ consent. Therefore, she sets her mind to the similar clinic where same rules don’t apply; the thing is, the closest clinic that offers what she needs is located in New York. In the process, she finds the sincerest support from her cousin and part-time co-worker, Skylar (Talia Ryder), who accompanies her traveling and surviving a few disoriented days in the big cities.
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Women support women is the message resonated from Autumn’s fateful journey. It sounds perfectly attuned to the dynamic of the narrative that often pries into distressed outcomes and floats between conflicted decisions. Skylar offers the perfect solidarity; her actions might cross the too-good-to-be-true lines, but it’s her sincere, non-judgmental action that separates Never Rarely Sometimes Always from similar stories that often succumb on the conflicts and subject’s morality. Ryder immaculately captures the composure that Skylar holds while bearing with Autumn, who still struggles with her internal battle. Non-judgmental, women solidarity is the resounding voice of the story; and it comes in many forms even when there’s disagreement. The counselor in Pennsylvania’s clinic offers sympathetic solace and all the helps she can, even when her belief isn’t what Autumn needed for the moment. The New York counselor and other staff help in any manner that doesn’t isolate Autumn and invade her privacy, even when on one scene involving the Likert-scale questionnaire, it’s hinted that she’s been a victim of abusive relationship.
Never Rarely Sometimes Always has no direct interest in digging up the trauma Autumn has to endure for the rest of the story, it focuses instead on the resolution and recuperation. The most intense manifestation of the trauma comes in the form of a young colleague boy, Jasper (Théodore Pellerin), who helps Autumn and Skylar in New York but insists on a shade of flirtation with the latter. It’s never explicitly mentioned if he’s bringing bad memories to Autumn, but we know he somewhat does. What Autumn has to offer is support to strengthen Skylar in one of the film’s toughest scene. In the end, everything comes in circle in this a powerful story providing balanced narrative over unexpected pregnancy at its center.