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Hannah Woodhead

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Never Rarely Sometimes Always – first look review

Beach Rats director Eliza Hittman offers an unflinching look at the troubling reality of reproductive rights in the US.

There are so many experiences that, as a young woman, you chalk up to experience. Creepy bosses and overfamiliar co-workers; pushy male classmates who will criticise you whether you sleep with them or not. We are instructed to be quiet, stoic, compliant, even in the face of sustained torment. Eliza Hittman’s heartbreaking Never Rarely Sometimes Always demonstrates these expectations and systems of oppression in unflinching detail.

In the UK, we’re lucky to still have healthcare which is free at the point of use and provides safe birth and termination options for those who need them. Things aren’t so simple in the US, where access to abortion is determined by state law, and as such subject to different rules and regulations. Seventeen-year-old Autumn Callaghan (Sidney Flanigan) realises this following her unplanned pregnancy. Her options in rural Pennsylvania are limited and require parental consent. Worried about how her family will react, she confides in her cousin Skylar (Talia Ryder) and the two set off on a journey to New York to get Autumn the help she needs.

Hittman’s work as a filmmaker is always understated, remarkable in its precision and honesty in dealing with serious issues. Her previous feature, Beach Rats, depicted internalised homophobia with a similar acuteness, and Never Rarely Sometimes Always nails the troubling reality of reproductive rights in America today, highlighting how few options are available to vulnerable women. There’s a sense of dread which haunts the film as its teenage protagonists attempt to navigate the complex healthcare system while also dealing with predatory men. But there’s not an ounce of melodrama to be found.

There’s light, too: Hittman emphasises the bond between Autumn and Skylar, demonstrating how female friendship is essential when faced with a situation as hopeless and unfair as this. Autumn’s journey is short relative to those made by countless teenage girls every day around the world; even then, millions more are forced into unsafe abortions or attempts to self-terminate, which can be fatal to the woman. One only hopes that the people with the power to change things for the better will see this film and take note.

Published 31 Jan 2020

Tags: Eliza Hittman Ryan Eggold Sharon Van Etten Sundance Film Festival Théodore Pellerin

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