Appropriately Enough for a Movie About an Abortion, ‘Never Rarely Sometimes Always’ is a Full-On Empathy Generator

1 Comment

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

This Is a Movie Review: A Wild Real-Life KKK Infiltration Makes ‘BlacKkKlansman’ an Essential Spike Lee Joint

Leave a comment

CREDIT: Focus Features

This review was originally published on News Cult in August 2018.

Starring: John David Washington, Adam Driver, Laura Harrier, Topher Grace, Jasper Pääkönen, Ryan Eggold, Paul Walter Hauser, Ashlie Atkinson, Robert John Burke, Corey Hawkins

Director: Spike Lee

Running Time: 135 Minutes

Rating: R for Incendiary Language and Images, Plus a Few Outbursts of Violence

Release Date: August 10, 2018

Going undercover is the most nerve-wracking work I can possibly imagine. Living in a constant state of dishonesty causes so many problems. Maybe this is one type of lying that can be justified morally, but that does not mean it is without consequences. It warps your sense of self and tears at the seams of all your close relationships. I have never had to go undercover myself, and thank God, because watching it in movies is stressful enough. The undercover experiences of Jewish Colorado Springs detective Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver) only serve to confirm this perception. But the approach of his black partner, Ron Stallworth (John David Washington), reveals that at least one person is built to handle the cognitive dissonance of going undercover.

Stallworth and Zimmerman’s infiltration into the Ku Klux Klan is the electrifying and infuriatingly relevant story of BlacKkKlansman, one of the most crowd-pleasing and just plain best joints in Spike Lee’s career. My main reaction to this flick is that if the real Stallworth is anything like the way Washington plays him, then he is one of the most righteously insane people who has ever lived. This is the first black officer in the history of the Colorado Springs police department, and his instinct when he sees a classified ad in the newspaper for the KKK is to contact them for more information. Furthermore, he treats his phone conversations with David Duke (Topher Grace) as an opportunity to pull off a long con to prove to the notorious grand wizard that he is not so adept at telling apart the races as he thinks he is. Stallworth’s actions may put himself and his fellow officers in the line of cross-burning fire, and Zimmerman calls him out for treating what should be a job as a crusade. But when unabashed racism is still delivering deadly violence to its targets, bold action is required to keep people safe.

Lee, of course, does not shy away from the rotting, anti-humanist message at the core of the KKK, but directly calling it out for what it is can still be a lot of fun. The entirety of Stallworth’s dialogue seems designed to inspire the dual reactions of “Can you believe what he’s saying?” and “That’s probably exactly what we need to hear, though.” “With the right white man, we can do anything” might very well be the slogan of American as filtered through the lens of Spike Lee. The KKK members are also a hoot without hiding their despicableness, with Grace seamlessly capturing the banality of evil and Alec Baldwin cameoing as a bumbling propagandist. Laura Harrier is just as essential as a Black Student Union leader who Ron becomes romantically involved with. Their discussions about blaxploitation and where the soul of fighting for justice should lie are the stuff of geeky film buffs’ delight. If you’re looking to have a fun time, seeing BlacKkKlansman is a great option, but Lee makes sure to unequivocally remind us of what we’re fighting for by including a coda of real-life footage from the 2017 Charlottesville riots. The historical passage of time in America is in many ways not so linear, and Lee is doing his best to capture it like lightning.

BlacKkKlansman is Recommended If You Like: Malcolm X, Chi-Raq, American Hustle

Grade: 4.5 out of 5 Crank Calls