“Never Rarely Sometimes Always” is a 2020 drama film written and directed by Eliza Hittman.
It stars Sidney Flanigan, Talia Ryder, Théodore Pellerin, Ryan Eggold, and Sharon Van Etten.
It depicts a 17-year-old girl who journeys from Pennsylvania to New York City with her cousin to get an abortion for an unwanted pregnancy without her parents’ knowledge.
Produced by Adele Romanski and Sara Murphy.
Cinematography by Hélène Louvart.
Music by Julia Holter.
It was a co-production between the United States and the United Kingdom. 101 minutes.
17-year-old high-school student Autumn Callahan (Sidney Flanigan) lives in Pennsylvania.
One day she finds that she is pregnant.
After learning that minors under 18 cannot get an abortion in Pennsylvania without parental consent, Autumn heads for New York City with her cousin and only friend Skylar (Talia Ryder) by bus to get an abortion without her parents’ knowledge.
“Never Rarely Sometimes Always” is the third feature film directed by Hittman, following “It Felt Like Love” (2013) and “Beach Rats” (2017).
It is a drama film on the problem of abortion. It can also be seen as a coming-of-age film and a road movie about female friendship and sisterhood.
It was shot on location in 2019 in New York City and Shamokin, Pennsylvania.
It had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in 2020. It won the Silver Bear Grand Jury Prize at the 70th Berlin International Film Festival.
About the Style of the Film
The style of the film is characterized by simple plot, the heavy use of close-ups and long takes, minimized dialogue and music, naturalistic direction in the documentary style, and the exclusion of dramatic narrative.
The film attempts to make the audience empathize with the leading character Autumn by visual storytelling, instead of saying much in words.
The cinematographer Louvart’s camera keeps following Autumn with intimate eyes, as if to cuddle up to her.
Though there are few dialogue scenes between Autumn and Skylar, the scene in which they secretly hold hands with each other implies a strong bond between them.
Who impregnated Autumn? Why does she try to deal with the problem alone with Skylar without talking with her mother? These backgrounds of the story are not explained within the film. It can also be interpreted that her stepfather Ted sexually abused and impregnated her. However, it is not shown clearly within the film.
“Never Rarely Sometimes Always”
The title of the film, “Never Rarely Sometimes Always” comes from the scene of a NYC clinic in which Autumn talks with counselor (social worker) Kelly before getting an abortion.
In the scene, Kelly asks Autumn a series of questions about her sexual partnership, including contraception and sexual violence, and she tells Autumn to answer any of “never”, “rarely”, “sometimes” and “always” to her questions.
The scene was shot in long takes with a 16 mm film camera in an actual facility, NYC Planned Parenthood. Real-life counselor Kelly Chapman played the role of the counselor.
Though Autumn is portrayed as a character who rarely shows her emotions openly, in this scene she first shows her emotion when she is asked about sexual abuse.
“He’s Got the Power” (1963) by the Exciters
In the opening scene of the film, Autumn sings a song (“He makes me do things I don’t wanna do…”) with a guitar at the school talent contest. This song is a ballad version of “He’s Got the Power” (1963), a single by American pop group the Exciters.
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Plot (Spoiler Alert)
17-year-old high-school student Autumn Callahan (Sidney Flanigan) lives in Ellensboro (a fictional town), Northumberland County, Pennsylvania with her mother (Sharon Van Etten), stepfather Ted (Ryan Eggold) and two little sisters.
Autumn is an antisocial girl and her cousin Skylar (Talia Ryder) is her only friend. Autumn and Skylar work part-time at a grocery store.
Autumn suspects she is pregnant and goes to a crisis pregnancy center, where she gets a positive test result and she learns that she is in the 10th week of her pregnancy. At the center, she is given literature on adoption, and shown an anti-abortion video, entitled “Hard Truth”.
After learning that minors under 18 cannot get an abortion in Pennsylvania without parental consent, Autumn tries self-induced abortion by swallowing Vitamin C pills and punching herself in the stomach, but she fails.
Autumn tells her cousin Skylar that she is pregnant. Autumn plans to go to New York City with Skylar by long-distance bus and get an abortion.
Skylar steals cash from the grocery store where they work, and the two buy bus tickets to New York City.
Autumn and Skylar head to New York City by bus.
On the bus, a young man named Jasper (Théodore Pellerin) talks to Skylar. He asks Skylar to go to a live concert with him, but she declines, saying that they are busy. Skylar and Jasper exchange contact information.
Autumn is checked by ultrasound at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Brooklyn, and it turns out that she is actually in the 18th week of her pregnancy.
The clinic staff tells her that in this facility they can offer abortions only within 12 weeks after the start date of the last menstrual period. The staff refers her to a Manhattan facility in which she will be able to have an examination tomorrow morning.
Autumn and Skylar spend a night riding the subway and playing games at an arcade.
The next morning Autumn goes to the Manhattan clinic. Autumn decides to pay out of her pocket without insurance coverage to get an abortion without her parents’ knowledge. The financial counselor tells her that she can be supported by private funds.
Counselor (social worker) Kelly tells Autumn that it takes two days to terminate her pregnancy.
Kelly asks Autumn why she decided to terminate her pregnancy. Autumn replies that she is not ready to be a mother.
Kelly asks Autumn a series of questions about her sexual partnership, including contraception and sexual violence, and she tells Autumn to answer any of “never”, “rarely”, “sometimes” and “always” to her questions.
Kelly asks Autumn if anyone has forced her into a sexual act ever. Autumn answers yes in tears.
Autumn receives pretreatment at the operating room. A doctor puts laminaria into her cervix to open it overnight. Kelly holds Autumn’s hand during the treatment.
Autumn and Skylar notice that they run out of money after paying for the appointment of abortion. Skylar calls Jasper to borrow money to go home from him.
Jasper takes the two bowling and to karaoke.
Autumn finds that she has bleeding from between her legs at the restroom of the bowling alley. She can’t help making a phone call to her mother, but she can’t say anything.
That night Skylar asks Jasper to lend them money for their bus tickets, and he agrees.
Jasper and Skylar go looking for an ATM, leaving Autumn at a station.
Autumn goes looking for Skylar and Jasper because they never come back, but she can’t find them. Autumn returns to the station and finds them kissing behind the back of a pillar. Autumn secretly holds Skylar’s hand.
Jasper gets money from an ATM and he hands over it to Skylar. He leaves, saying to Skylar that he’ll text her.
The next morning Autumn gets an abortion.
After eating in a restaurant, Autumn and Skylar ride a bus back to Pennsylvania.