CREDIT: Focus Features

Starring: Sidney Flanigan, Talia Ryder, Théodor Pellerin, Ryan Eggold, Sharon Van Etten

Director: Eliza Hittman

Running Time: 101 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Having to Be an Adult While You’re Still a Teenager

Release Date: March 13, 2020 (Limited)

Abortion remains one of the most fraught debates in American society, so it’s a bit of a small miracle when a movie about it is able to get produced and released, even when it’s something as small as Never Rarely Sometimes Always. It is reminiscent of the 2014 indie comedy Obvious Child insofar as it matter-of-factly presents the termination of an unplanned pregnancy, but with all the corresponding differences that go along with a protagonist who is a decade younger and lives in a state with more restrictive legislation. Accordingly then, it is a much more somber, exhausting affair. Autumn (Sidney Flanigan) is the one with the unplanned pregnancy, a teenage girl living in sleepy little Northumberland County in central Pennsylvania. Her best option for procuring an abortion is taking a bus to New York City, which is something that she is able to do if she sets her mind to it. Phrasing it that way kind of brushes aside the more difficult parts of this journey, but it’s an attitude that’s needed for Autumn to adopt to survive this experience.

Any major medical procedure is difficult to handle on one’s own both on a practical and psychological level, so luckily for Autumn, her cousin Skylar (Talia Ryder) is available to accompany her. I don’t like imagining how Autumn would’ve handled (or not handled) everything if she didn’t have a travel partner. From the moment she realizes she might be pregnant, her existence is in unending string of stress and indignities. She is forced to watch a graphic video discouraging abortion. She and Skylar encounter a creepy guy (Théodor Pellerin) on the bus who invites them to a show at an abandoned subway. She discovers that she has to stay overnight with no place to sleep because her pregnancy is farther along than she realized. She has to pay for the abortion out of pocket (thus depleting her bus fund) even though she has insurance, as she does not want her parents to be notified of what she’s doing. And then she must endure a series of multiple-choice screening questions (whose possible answers give the film its title) that force her to confront the pain of adolescence she’s been internalizing.

I don’t imagine Never Rarely Sometimes Always will change anyone’s minds on this issue (at least not immediately). I don’t think that’s what it was designed to do anyway. Cinema, famously, is known for its ability to generate empathy, and I hope that that power still applies even when viewers fundamentally disagree with the choices the main character makes. So while I don’t imagine that any needles on this issue will be moved anywhere significantly, I do hope that everyone who witnesses Autumn’s story can understand where she is coming from and appreciate the truth of her situation.

Never Rarely Sometimes Always is Recommended If You Like: Obvious Child but wish it had been a drama

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Bus Trips