You know cinematic greatness when you see it. Sometimes, it comes in high profile fare. Other times, it’s in below the radar works that need to be championed. That’s where we come in. A new series of articles here at Awards Radar, called On Our Radar, will call out the work that we think deserves an extra bit of acclaim. Especially with Oscar season upon us and the precursors underway, now is not the time stay silent about what deserves Academy Award attention. Today, we make the inaugural subject the riveting film Never Rarely Sometimes Always, as well as the incredible women who made it happen.
Written and directed by Eliza Hittman, starring Sidney Flanigan and Talia Ryder, the movie chronicles the lengths that a teenage girl has to go in this country to get an abortion. Laws created, almost exclusively by males, have made a labyrinth for anyone engaging with reproductive health in America. Autumn (Flanigan) is not ready to have a child, but her state requires parental consent. That’s not an option, so along with her best friend and cousin Skylar (Ryder), they head to New York City, looking for help at Planned Parenthood. Obviously, New York has some of the most liberal laws in the country regarding abortion, but even so, bureaucracy extends and complicates their trip. Hittman captures all of this in a matter of fact manner, which only increases how much your heart breaks for Autumn, as well as how angry you are that the situation exists in the first place.
I haven’t been shy about praising the film, but it goes beyond just being a magnificent movie. It’s also damn important. After all, it’s not very often that any cinema is required viewing for teenagers. In this situation, however, they are actually being exposed to a film that could save their lives. A sobering story of teen pregnancy, as well as a look at what some states make you go through to get an abortion, it’s a masterpiece. Equally effective as a character study and as an angry protest for all the women who go through this hardship, it will blow you away. It literally demands to be seen.
First and foremost, I was absolutely blown away by Sidney Flanigan’s performance, from beginning to end. Namely, there’s a sequence that anyone who sees the movie will never ever forget. Flanigan’s Autumn is being asked a series of questions at Planned Parenthood by an employee. Wisely, Eliza Hittman’s camera simply lingers on her as she answers them by choosing between the required answers of never, rarely, sometimes, or always. As she’s asked the questions, they probe into her relationships and sexual history, looking for any signs of abuse. As you might expect from a private teen girl, her answers are somewhat evasive, but the breakdown happening slowly on her face is absolutely devastating. It’s arguably the best individual scene of acting I’ve seen all year. without question, Flanigan is extraordinary here, deserving of huge praise and a tremendous career to come. However, Talia Ryder is terrific too, playing her cousin and companion on the trip. She brings a bubblier quality to things, while also providing an incredibly effective look at family and friendship. Together, the newcomers display wonderful chemistry and don’t have an ounce of artifice in their performances. Under Hittman’s expert direction, they execute an impeccable screenplay, creating magic in the process.
As I mentioned on the podcasts with Flanigan (here), Hittman (here), and Ryder (here), it would have been easy for this flick to have fallen through the cracks. Especially when the pandemic upended its theatrical release back in March, it could have essentially been lost to time. A weekend in theaters, before the country shut down? That’s not usually how a success story begins. Instead, the film thrived on VOD and through word of mouth. Critics, industry members, and viewers alike, they found it and embraced it. That’s set it up to be in a position to be in the Oscar conversation. In fact, it’s been cited multiple times already, be it in precursor awards or top ten lists. More will be coming, too, without question.
Voters should certainly consider Never Rarely Sometimes Always in multiple categories. First up, Best Picture. Independent character studies of a gritty nature have cracked the lineup before, so why not this one? Look at Winter’s Bone for an example of an indie that pulled it. At the same time, it’ll need other nominations to make Picture a possibility, and that’s where Flanigan in Best Actress comes into play. Clearly one of the precursor darlings so far, if more critics groups chime in to praise her, it’s distinctly possible that she’ll crack the lineup. If she gets into Actress, that’s a huge step in the right direction. Moreover, Hittman may be a longer shot in Best Director, but a citation in Best Original Screenplay is far from an impossibility. Don’t sleep on Ryder, either, considering the weak nature of Best Supporting Actress. If we see Hittman make it into Original Screenplay, along with the Flanigan nod, a Picture nom makes a lot of sense. If you check my predictions (here), you can see that this is basically what I have happening, too.
With the precursor season underway, Flanigan has made some waves, for sure. Hopefully, this continues. You won’t find a more deserving contender this year. It’s a special film, plain and simple. If you’ve seen it, you know. If you haven’t, well…what are you waiting for?
Keep Never Rarely Sometimes Always on your radar, folks. It’s certainly on ours.