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Storyline (warning: spoilers)
Faced with an unintended pregnancy and a lack of familial support at home, Autumn and her cousin, Skylar, travel across state to New York City on a fraught journey of friendship, courage and compassion. In Pennsylvania, teens need parental consent in order to terminate a pregnancy. In New York, the system is marginally less oppressive, resulting in a road trip, with Autumn enlisting her more outgoing cousin as travelling companion. It’s here the film becomes the story of two girls on an adventure in the big city, albeit the least joyous of all imaginable versions of this trope.
Nonetheless, there is a touch of poetry to this possible wild goose chase, with Hittman’s use of grainy 16-milimetre film reinforcing the drawn out, wintry mood. There is also an aura of ambiguity around Autumn which also extends to other characters they meet along the way, especially college-age Jasper (Theodore Pellerin), whose clumsily persistent pick-up attempts could be those of the goofy but endearing heartthrob in a different sort of teen movie. From the girls’ perspective, the issue is whether he’s an ally, a neutral element or a predator. For the audience, the answer matters much less than the context that triggers this inquiry - the sense of the city as a dark and dangerous war zone where it’s necessary to be on constant alert.
Much goes unspoken in Never Rarely Sometimes Always, but Hittman’s sensitive script and the strong performances still make it feel authentic and true. The scene that gives the film its title — a pre-procedure interview by a Planned Parenthood counsellor — is never explicit in the trauma(s) experienced by Autumn, and it doesn’t need to be. Those who have had related experiences know first-hand that this is not a black-and-white issue, but one filled with grey areas for which there are no cut-and dry answers.