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Five Cent Cine At Home: Never Rarely Sometimes Always

Available: For rental through Amazon and elsewhere; JustWatch availability here.

“Never Rarely Something Always” is about abortion, while avoiding the “will she/won’t she” dilemma that haunts most abortion films and makes them at once polemical and predictable. The 17-year-old at the center of the film never varies in her decision. “I’m not ready to be a Mom,” she answers when pressed for the reason for her choice.

The film follows Autumn Callahan (Buffalonian Sidney Flanigan) in her effort to obtain the abortion she clearly has decided she wants, made difficult by her home state of Pennsylvania, which requires parental consent before age 18. After several attempts at self-inducing the abortion, Autumn embarks on a journey from the fictional Ellensboro to New York City, accompanied physically and emotionally by her cousin and fellow grocery clerk, Skylar (Talia Ryder). Aside from the quest to terminate the pregnancy, “Never Rarely” is the story of two small-town girls in the big city without much money, knowledge, or adult support.

The script is admirably lean. Director and writer Eliza Hittman (who directed two episodes of the acclaimed Netflix series about teenage suicide, “13 Reasons Why”) presents teenage angst and trauma without the usual Hollywood dialogue that reveals what we already know or imagine—a slippery slope to the predictable made-for-TV movie. Autumn and Skylar never say much to each other. Missing are the scenes in which Autumn tells anyone she’s pregnant, asks Skylar for help, acknowledges who impregnated her, or describes the abortion itself.

There’s also little backstory to Autumn’s predicament. Some male somewhere made her pregnant, but instead of specifics, reprehensible male sexuality is free-floating: the lout who yells “slut” from the audience as Autumn sings a folk song in a high school variety show; her mother’s husband (it’s not clear if he’s her Dad or Stepdad), who rolls lasciviously with the family dog; the grocery store manager who kisses each girl’s hand as she slides her daily cash drawer money to him; the “suit” on the subway who jerks off in front of them.

The one male who gets some time in front of the camera is Jasper (Théodore Pellerin), a young man on the make whom the girls meet on their bus trip to New York City. On their second night roaming the city, and broke, Skylar reaches out to Jasper, then uses her sexuality to get him to pay their bus fare back to Pennsylvania. In a touching scene, Autumn shows her understanding and appreciation of her friend’s sacrifice when she holds Skylar’s pinkie while she’s letting Jasper kiss and fondle her.

There are a few jarring notes as Hittman molds her script to the tale she wants to tell.

There are a few jarring notes as Hittman molds her script to the tale she wants to tell. There’s no adequate reason for Autumn to reject the Planned Parenthood social worker’s offer to find them overnight lodgings for the two-day procedure—except to make the two teenagers spend another night on the streets of the city. Nor is there a good reason for the two to pack one large roller bag for their trip when they could have each carried a backpack; the unwieldy suitcase makes their urban ordeal more exhausting, and it serves as a metaphor for the burden they carry—and share.

These are minor flaws—if, indeed, they are—in one of the better explorations into the teenage psyche. The film has echoes of “Juno” (2007), starring Ellen Page; “Lady Bird,” Greta Gerwig’s 2017 award-winner with Saoirse Ronan; and 2018’s “Eighth Grade,” with standout young actress Elsie Fisher. In her first film, Flanigan is just as good, and Ryder is quietly credible in her side-kick role. “Never Rarely” is also in the tradition of narratives about inexperienced women in the unfamiliar and threatening big city, again echoing “Lady Bird” and Theodore Dreiser’s classic 1900 American novel, “Sister Carrie.”

In Autumn’s halting answers and non-answers, there’s only a hint of past abusive relationships.

The words “Never,” “Rarely,” “Sometimes,” “Always” refer to the possible responses Autumn could give when the social worker (an authentic Kelly Chapman) asks about her sexual relationships and the reasons she’s come to her decision. In Autumn’s halting answers and non-answers, there’s only a hint of past abusive relationships. The restraint in Hittman’s script and directing, and Flanigan’s talent for revealing an inner self with minimal affect and few words, make “Never Rarely Sometimes Always” exceptional.

Date: 2020

3.5 Stars (out of 4)

Directed by: Eliza Hittman

Starring: Sidney Flanigan, Talia Ryder, Théodore Pellerin, Kelly Chapman

Runtime: 101 minutes

With movie theaters closed, Five Cent Cine is shifting gears. “2 film critics” will continue our usual reviewing schedule of about 3 movies per month, now labeled Five Cent Cine At Home, with all of those films available streaming or for rent or purchase. Each review will list (at the top) the source(s) for you to access the film in your own living room or bedroom.

In addition, we’ll be posting a “Streamer of the Week,” a review from our catalogue (more than 110 reviews dating to mid-2016) of a film available for streaming—a way to revisit a film you’ve already seen or to decide you would enjoy.

Also see reviews on…

Sorry to Bother You


Hidden Figures

Ford v Ferrari

Captain Fantastic

First Cow


Ordinary Love

Portrait of a Lady on Fire

Uncut Gems

Les Misérables

The Last Black Man in San Francisco



Little Women

Marriage Story

Queen & Slim

The Irishman


Cold Brook

Jojo Rabbit

Pain & Glory ( Dolor y Gloria)



Downton Abbey

Ad Astra

Once Upon A Time In Hollywood

The Goldfinch

Good Boys

Written by 2 Film Critics

2 Film Critics

William Graebner is Emeritus Professor of History, State University of New York, Fredonia, where he taught courses on film and American culture. He is the author or co-author of 11 books and more than 50 scholarly articles, including essays on “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre,” “McCabe and Mrs. Miller,” “The Poseidon Adventure,” and zombie films as they relate to the Holocaust. Dianne Bennett, the first woman to head a large U.S. law firm, is a retired U.S. tax lawyer.

Dianne and Bill were early and passionate attendees at the Toronto Film Festival, and today enjoy the film scenes of Los Angeles, Rome, London, and Buffalo, New York. They began reviewing films for the Rome-based website “TheAmerican/inItalia” in 2016, have maintained a blog on Rome for a decade, and published two alternative guidebooks to the Eternal City. They still can’t resist going to the movies, not to mention the ensuing discussions, sometimes heated, over a bottle of Arneis at the nearest wine bar.

​And that's just the beginning of our reviewing process. For one or two hours we discuss the film, as one of us takes notes. The notetaker transcribes the notes and prints two copies. Dianne or Bill (usually depending on who had the most compelling understanding of the film, or who was most taken with it) writes the first draft of the review--supposedly taking into account the views of the other--which is followed by 3, 4, or even 7 more drafts. At some point, sometimes days later, when we're both comfortable with the result (or accepting of it, anyway), it's done.

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