'NEVER RARELY SOMETIMES ALWAYS'
(NR) Score: 2.5 stars (**1/2) out of 4 stars
From the second the U.S. Supreme Court decision creating a woman's legal right to an abortion was handed down on Jan. 22, 1973, there hasn’t been a day gone by where Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113, didn’t provide the basis of an argument somewhere in the United States.
The passion among both pro-abortion rights and anti-abortion camps has never subsided; the animus has yet to reach its zenith. With the recent addition of two (assumed) anti-abortion justices (Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh) to the Supreme Court, each side is digging-in even deeper, and for the first time in nearly a half-century, the ruling is the closest it’s ever come to being overturned.
While there have been roughly 100 feature films that have directly or indirectly addressed the abortion issue, less than a handful exhibited any kind of staying power. Writer/director Eliza Hittman’s "Never Rarely Sometimes Always" (NRSA) (Focus Features) will be a new addition to that small list but not for the reasons Hittman probably wanted or expected.
The movie opens with Autumn (an impressive Sidney Flanagan in her feature debut) performing an Ellie Greenwich song at a high school talent show.
Accompanying herself on guitar, Autumn is heckled by some snickering boys and it’s clear she’s rattled by it. Autumn is also clearly uncomfortable by the gruff and dismissive vibe put out by her father (Ryan Eggold) at dinner after the show and later at home.
Oblivious to all of this is her mother (Sharon Van Etten) who is a full-time wrangler to Autumn’s rambunctious two younger sisters. The only good thing Autumn has going for her is Skylar (Talia Ryder), her non-judgmental best friend and cousin working as a cashier at a local store and who isn’t afraid of dipping into the till for spending money.
As the 17-year-old Autumn feared she is indeed pregnant but, because her home state of Pennsylvania requires parental consent for an abortion, she decides to head to New York City with the dutiful Skylar in tow.
They pack a suitcase big enough for a week-long stay where an overnight bag would have sufficed and spend a good third of the 90 minute running time toting it around town looking for a hotel they can’t afford.
Why the pair didn’t just go further upstate to avoid this inconvenience is never brought up.
Before the movie even finishes with its opening credits, it's apparent where Hittman is going with it. The Greenwich song at the top (by Ellie Greenwich and Tony Powers) is "He’s Got the Power," a tune about female powerlessness, followed by a father whose anger could be jealousy (or worse) and then a second half with one loathsome, unlikeable male character after another.
Autumn’s meetings with two nurses/councilors provide no grey areas.
The first encounter — the one confirming the pregnancy — is administered by an anti-abortion woman who compliments Autumn then slightly strong-arms her into looking at horrific anti-abortion images.
The second — where another woman asks questions of Autumn requiring the four words in the title — is equally impactful in a polar opposite way but no less obvious and leading.
Autumn is also asked if she feels she’s in any danger and other slanted inquiries designed to instill fear and unmistakable airs of misplaced victimhood — before all of the facts are even known. Based on other frank statements by Autumn, she’s well-informed, experienced and wise beyond her years.
"NRSA" is a movie preaching to the choir and it will not likely change the minds of any pro-abortion rights viewers but can be appreciated by apolitical audiences interested in the subtle performances of the leads and Hittman’s confidence in her own story.
What's impossible to ignore and what ends up overpowering the intended narrative is Hittman’s glaring and purposeful omission of a single solitary sympathetic male character. "NRSA" isn’t pro-abortion rights as much as it is anti-man.
The best films of this ilk are the ones which offer balance, remain relatively neutral and infuse sly humor which keeps the audience on their toes. The best of these include Alexander Payne’s 1996 directorial debut "Citizen Ruth" starring recent Oscar-winner Laura Dern and the Oscar-nominated Ellen Page as the title character in Jason Reitman’s "Juno" from 2007. Very good, but not great, is filmmaker Gillian Robespierre’s 2014 debut "Obvious Child" starring former "SNL" cast member Jenny Slate.
If either of the two diametrically-opposed camps on the abortion issue ever wishes to sway others around to their way of thinking with a movie, they’ll have to do so with finesse, wit, and an honest acknowledgement that the other side actually exists and might have something worthwhile to say.
Available now on-demand on a multitude of platforms.
Originally from Washington, D.C., Michael Clark has written for over 30 local and national media outlets, is currently the only newspaper-based film critic providing original content in the Atlanta Top 10 media marketplace and co-founded the Atlanta Film Critics Circle in 2017. Over the last 25 years, Mr. Clark has written over 4,000 movie reviews and film related articles and is one of the scant few conservative-minded U.S. film critics. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
© 2021 Newsmax. All rights reserved.