Eliza Hittman‘s Never Rarely Sometimes Always opens on Friday (3.13). As mentioned a few days ago, it’s been hyped as the U.S. indie answer to Cristian Mungiu‘s Four Months, Three Weeks, Two Days.
Basic drill: Autumn (Sidney Flanigan), a pregnant teen from rural Pennsylvania who doesn’t want her parents to know, makes her way to Manhattan to have an abortion, accompanied by her cousin Skylar (Talia Ryder).
It goes without saying that you can’t trust critics on films like this. You can, however, trust Hollywood Elsewhere, and I’m calling this a respectable effort — spare, direct, quietly affecting. But it doesn’t give you enough.
Like Autumn, the film holds back a lot, and is basically buried within itself. That makes it a sad experience on one level, but on another it feels too spare, too closed off. It overuses the less-is-more aesthetic. Hittman tells you what you need to know, but at the same time as little as possible.
I couldn’t finally decide if Flanigan is playing a guarded, fearful, inexpressive women, or if she herself is that way. She connects four times — two singing scenes (one in which she karaokes “Don’t let The Sun Catch You Crying”), a scene in which she throws a glass of water in a teenage boy’s face, and an abortion clinic scene in which she breaks down while being asked some painful personal questions.
But she’s so buried, so shielded. She doesn’t even trust the nice abortion-clinic lady, who has nothing but kindness in her heart.
What a miserable life poor Autumn is leading. So cut off, so solitary. The film isn’t really a story about getting an abortion in NYC. It’s actually a study of Autumn’s isolation and defensiveness and brusque mood pockets. A study of a prisoner living in her own cage, and terrified of leaving it.
I’m sorry but Never Rarely Sometimes Always is nowhere near as accomplished as 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days. Not even in the same league. The women in Mungiu’s film were sullen and suspicious and kept to themselves also, but Mungiu let you in. You were allowed to peek into their feelings and pressures, to share in their fears and resentments and whatnot. Not so much here.
Ryder’s character is more open and expressive, and a little smarter. Ditto her performance.