NEVER RARELY SOMETIMES ALWAYS: FILM REVIEW
CW: Never Rarely Sometimes Always deals with abortion.
Eliza Hittman’s Never Rarely Sometimes Always follows a pregnant teen named Autumn and her cousin, Skylar from rural Pennsylvania to New York City. Why? Autumn needs an abortion.
Calling Autumn and Skylar’s journey an “adventure” would be disrespectful. It is a laborious journey, soiled by grief and lack of sleep. While Autumn and Skylar plan for the trip to take no more than a day, it ends up taking several. The two bounce between clinics after realizing that Autumn is further along in her pregnancy than she was told. Port Authority and the subway become their bed, public restrooms their shower.
The film begins with a clip of Autumn performing an acoustic version of The Exciters' “He’s Got the Power” in a school show. With glittery eyeshadow, a pearl necklace and a hot pink sweater, Autumn appears to be your typical indie teen. It’s also no coincidence that Sharon Van Etten plays her mom in the film. In the middle of Autumn’s song, her ex-boyfriend yells “Slut!” causing the audience to snicker. Shortly after, Autumn visits her local clinic and finds out she’s pregnant. What Autumn decides to do afterwards is so instinctual, it caught me off guard. She pierces her nose. Every time I get a piercing, it’s because I’m subconsciously longing to feel independent; I can make a decision about my body and have something to show for it. Autumn pierces her nose with a hot safety pin, following a moment in which it feels like her body isn’t hers. He’s got the power; the pregnancy is just as much (or more) due to her ex-boyfriend’s actions as it is hers, but she’s the one that has to carry the baby.
It’s these moments of understanding that make Never Rarely Sometimes Always such a gut-wrenching and incredible film. When Skylar and Autumn realize they didn’t budget enough money to take the bus home from New York, Skylar calls up a boy named Jasper, who desperately hit on her on the bus from Pennsylvania to New York. Although Jasper doesn’t know the girls are using him, it’s clear that he won’t hand over the money unless Skylar agrees to hook up. One of the most powerful scenes from the film occurs when Autumn finds Skylar reluctantly making out with Jasper behind a pole and extends her pinky for Skylar to hold while engaging in an act she desperately wants to resist. This moment of quiet solidarity screamed at me and at countless young women who realize at a young age that in this world, submission often feels like the only answer.
Not only was the execution of this film excellent, but also its story is incredibly important. Being on the cusp of turning 20, it’s not uncommon for me to have conversations about being able to check off that box that says “beat teen pregnancy,” as if it’s a disease. The other day my friend asked, “How many people do you think we know have had abortions, but they just never told anyone?” Much of what gets put into the category of taboo in our society is molded by media exposure. It seems that either you get pregnant as a teen, have a baby, and end up on “16 and Pregnant” or you don’t get pregnant. What about getting pregnant as a teen and having an abortion? Such a prospect seems largely swept under the rug, as abortions are almost always portrayed in the media as a shameful part of someone’s past, if even covered at all. This stigma is even revealed within the film, as Autumn and Skylar don’t verbally speak about the abortion much, and instead, show mutual support and understanding through small gestures.
Never Rarely Sometimes Always highlights the trauma that women face while growing up, whether its being sexualized from a young age, or being forced to make decisions about your bodily autonomy even before you’ve fully settled into it. While the plot of this film revolves around abortion, it encapsulates a much larger message about womanhood. Hittman’s Never Rarely Sometimes Always is a piece of work that young women will find easy to identify with, whether we want to or not.