A teenager’s unintended pregnancy sends her across state lines on a path of quietly devastating indignities. Filmmaker Eliza Hittman’s ‘Never Rarely Sometimes Always’ is a starkly told film that illustrates the obstacles blocking ordinary American women from proper healthcare. When 17-year-old Autumn (newcomer Sidney Flanigan) finds out she’s pregnant, she realises that her options in rural Pennsylvania are severely limited. Unable to confide in her parents or a local doctor, Autumn and her cousin Skylar (Talia Ryder) pocket some cash from their grocery store jobs and take a bus to New York, where abortion is legal. Hittman’s approach to the material doesn’t editorialise, allowing its audience to infer the systemic failures surrounding Autumn’s predicament.
The title itself refers to a set of responses Autumn is told to give during an extended, heart-wrenching Planned Parenthood interview in which she’s asked increasingly personal questions. Up until this point, she has countered the world’s indifference to her plight with a steely reserve and blank expressions; however, with each successive question landing closer to an open wound, her veneer starts to crack. In this pivotal moment, Flanigan shows expert control over her performance. Unable to stop tears from falling, but maintaining a defensive distance to her counsellor, she communicates all the anxiety and alienation that a young woman in Autumn’s situation must feel. It’s a stunning debut performance and surely will be a star-making role.
Hittman leaves much of the wider context of her film unspoken, instead focusing on details that make the world feel lived in. As Autumn and Skylar traverse an unforgiving city, they haul a shared suitcase that noisily clatters against the subway steps. The metaphor for the extra baggage these cousins carry should not be lost, but it’s also a constant reminder of their unsettled nature. ‘Never Rarely Sometimes Always’ creates a deeply empathetic look at their shared suffering. Far from home and short on money, Hittman’s protagonists have nothing but one another to help them endure an apathetic society.