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NEVER RARELY SOMETIMES ALWAYS: 4 STARS. “riveting emotional honesty.”

“Never Really Sometimes Always” is being billed as an abortion drama but is really a story of class, gender and the bond between two young women.

When we first see 17-year-old Autumn (Sidney Flanigan) she is performing at a school talent show. As she nervously sings a song called “He Makes Me Do It” she is confronted by indifference from her step-father (Ryan Eggold) and heckles from her male classmates. What her parents and friends don’t know is that Autumn suspects she is pregnant. A visit to the crisis pregnancy center in her rural Pennsylvania town confirms her fears. “If it is positive is there any way it could be a negative?” she asks as the pregnancy test returns a result. Told she is ten weeks along, the nurse shows her a VHS tape that begins with a dramatic voiceover. “The horrible truth is that abortion is an act of violence against the baby.”

As Pennsylvania law requires women under 18 to receive parental permission before having an abortion, Autumn and her cousin Skylar (Talia Ryder) hop a bus across state lines to a clinic in Brooklyn, New York. Alone in an unfamiliar city, the two must rely on one another as obstacles are placed in their way.

“Never Rarely Sometimes Always” is a quiet, keenly observed movie that avoids the pitfalls of pathos to present a story on the topic of bodily autonomy. Stark and naturalistic, it relies on subtlety and nuance to comment on a topic that is frequently the subject of histrionics. Director Eliza Hittman allows Autumn’s anxiety to be the focus of the story, giving us a powerful, nonjudgement window into the inner workings of her decision.

The title is key to one of film’s most riveting scenes of emotional honesty. At the NYC clinic she is asked to answer a series of questions like, “Has anyone made her have sex against her will?” regarding her sexual history and partners. Each is answered with one word, never, rarely, sometimes or always. As the questionnaire continues the scene becomes fraught with meaning as each answer brings up a wellspring of feelings in Autumn.

If there is a downside here it’s that “Never Rarely Sometimes Always” relies so heavily on the unsaid. The unspoken nature of the relationship between Autumn and Skylar reveals the deep bond they share—they often communicate through looks and body language—but occasionally feels too spare in longer scenes. That being said, their relationship is a thing of beauty as they find strength in one another in good times and bad.

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