NEVER, RARELY, SOMETIMES, ALWAYS – Review by Martha K Baker

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Never, Rarely, Sometimes, Always stuns with reality.

Do not look for big moments or crashing scenes in Never, Rarely, Sometimes, Always. They are not here. Look for nuances — the touch of a hand, the roll of an eye, a shared smile. That one smile sneaks in late in this stunning story freighted with reality, pictured with compassion.

The clue to the cryptic title is revealed in all its hoary hell in an interview midway. A counselor at an abortion clinic asks a young woman a series of questions, the answers to which can range from “never” to “always.” “Have you ever been hit?” “Have you ever been forced to do something sexually that you did not want?” The teen’s answers solidify the ground beneath the substance of this startling film about ending an unwanted pregnancy.

Her name is Autumn — although she is in the spring of her young life. She lives with a mother trying to keep the peace in a step-family of a teenager and her much younger step-sibs. Autumn and her cousin Skylar, neither a looker exactly, clerk together in a big box store. Autumn is naturally withdrawn; Skylar, more outgoing. The two have each other’s backs — and, thankfully, each other’s hearts.

Autumn, like so many women nowadays, has to go out of state for an abortion, for Pennsylvania requires that parents of underage girls be informed. So these two small-town girls head for the Big Apple. They make their way through cold subways and grey bus stations, through clinics and bad news, through scary procedures and necessary financial entanglements. They manage.

Talia Ryder plays Skylar and Sydney Flanigan plays Autumn. They are indelible in Never, Rarely, Sometimes, Always but that is partly because director/writer Eliza Hittman keeps the camera close up to their faces, barely registering their angst, or to their hands as Autumn fills in a ream of forms or as Skylar rings up a purchase by a creepy customer.

Never, Rarely, Sometimes, Always builds. From the first frame, it seems to be just one more film about a lost teenager. It is not. Its closest recent film sister is the Romanian film “4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days” from 2007. Both are spare and caring. Never, Rarely, Sometimes, Always is unforgettable as a film and extremely important as a social statement. It is available on a number streaming platforms, including Apple and Amazon.

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Martha K. Baker

Martha K. Baker

I first taught film at Lakeland College in Wisconsin in 1969 and became a professional film reviewer in 1976 in St. Louis, Mo. Through the years, I have reviewed films for the St. Louis Business Journal, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Episcopal Life, and KWMU (NPR), among other outlets. I've reviewed at KDHX radio, my current outlet, for nearly 20 years.