Sensitive indie could be required teen viewing

After wowing audiences at this year’s Sundance Festival Festival, Focus Features planned a limited theatrical release for this socially pertinent teen drama. But the virus, as we all know, changed everyone’s best-laid plans. “Never Rarely Sometimes Always” hits VOD today.

Directed by Eliza Hittman, “Never Rarely Sometimes Always” is her followup to 2017’s well-received “Beach Rats,” which also made its premiere at Sundance. And like that film, Hittman continues to explore relevant teen troubles intimately. 

In “Never Rarely Sometimes Always,” we meet 17-year-old Autumn (newcomer Sidney Flanigan) as she and her friend Skylar (Talia Ryder) travel from rural Pennsylvania to New York City seeking abortion services. Hittman, who also pens the script, tells this tale incrementally. Before the journey, we get to know Autumn and appreciate something of her fractured life. It’s a situation that is all too common.

When she visits a local clinic out of concern that she might be pregnant, Autumn discovers that dealing with this serious medical condition requires more than just popping out to the corner shop. A clandestine trip is planned to get answers, which leads her and Skylar to another state where Autumn can get the care she wants. Such is the nature of medical care and the law in the USA.

Sidney Flanigan makes her film debut as Autumn.

Tedious and slow, but sincere, some viewers may check out of this one early. Once the action moves to the Big Apple, things pick up, and the caring, aware nature of the story-telling will educate its target audience. The movie’s title comes from the method suggested by a medical professional in the film for answering pre-operative screening questions.

It’s not surprising that this movie was a Sundance darling elevated to a limited theatrical run. Hittman delivers a familiar-looking indie with a combination of soft, lingering images that take us inside Autumn’s plight almost in real-time. And the performances, especially from Flanigan, in her film debut, resonate, as dialogue feels authentic and natural.

At first glance, one would think that this isn’t a film for the anti-abortion crowd, who, perhaps, without even seeing it, will demonize the movie as promoting such services. But Hittman isn’t making any value judgments, nor is she taking a position in the overheated debate. The story isn’t a crusade; instead, “Never Rarely Sometimes Always” painstakingly documents the decision and the process. It exposes, vividly, the emotional toll that a weighty decision involving a life and a life in gestation takes on a very young person.
Some viewers, especially those similar in age to the protagonists, may come out of the movie against abortion. Still, other viewers may rethink their choices leading up to a possible unwanted pregnancy. It’s a languid, but a thoughtful narrative that provides breathing space for reflection while it is unfolding.

“Never Rarely Sometimes Always” isn’t an entertaining watch, but for some of the most impressionable minds in formation, it might be a necessary one.