“Never Rarely Sometimes Always” is writer-director Eliza Hittman’s follow-up to her award-winning 2017 drama “Beach Rats,” and it stars Sidney Flanigan, Talia Ryder, Théodore Pellerin, Ryan Eggold, and Sharon Van Etten. The film, which had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival on January 24, 2020, follows a pair of teenage girls in rural Pennsylvania, who travel to New York City to seek out medical help after an unintended pregnancy.
The story was inspired by Savita Halappanavar, an Indian woman living in Ireland, who was denied an abortion by the staff at University Hospital Galway, on the grounds that granting her request would be illegal under Irish law. This ultimately resulted in her death from septic miscarriage, which served as a rallying cry for efforts to repeal the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution of Ireland, which prohibited abortion in most instances.
Halappanavar’s death led to the passing of the Thirty-sixth Amendment of the Constitution, which repealed the Eighth Amendment, and signed into law the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Act in 2018.
For Hittman, reading about Halappanavar’s case was devastating.
“I was very sad and started reading about how far women in Ireland would have to travel at that time if they needed an abortion, and thinking about what that journey looks like in other countries, and decided to explore that dilemma in the context of our current climate,” she said.
In “Never Rarely Sometimes Always,” Autumn, played by Flanigan, is a teenager who works as a cashier in a rural Pennsylvania supermarket. Faced with an unintended pregnancy and without viable alternatives for an abortion in her home state, she and her cousin Skylar (Ryder), put together some cash, pack a suitcase, and board a bus to New York City, which is entirely unfamiliar to both of them.
Flanigan said she was drawn to the project because of Hittman’s sensitive, true-to-life script.
“I loved how grounded in reality it was, and it was kind of magical in its own way,” the actress said.
And as to what informed her lauded performance, she said: “I just drew from that universal pain that all of these women are feeling, and trying to maintain these rights that are always under threat.”
Co-star Ryder was also drawn to Hittman’s writing.
“For me, it was also the script that drew me, and the role that I play, and the fierce love and protection she has for her cousin,” Ryder said. “And also it was kind of an untold story, and so just seeing that made me want to be a part of it.”
Hittman revealed that she was partly motivated by Cristian Mungiu’s 2007 Communist Romania-set drama, “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days,” which told the story of two students who try to get an illegal abortion, during the final years of dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu’s reign.
She loved the film, but found inspiration in its flaws.
“What really resonated with me was a secondary character who is pregnant, and is a bit shamed for being pregnant, and is considered a little juvenile, careless, and reckless, and I thought, even though the film is stunning, its execution was a bit insensitive towards a character who was actually in crisis,” she said. “And that’s something I thought about a lot in writing my film.”
For research, Hittman spoke to not just women in similar predicaments as her leads, but also the people whose job it is to assist them.
“I talked with social workers at several clinics, like Planned Parenthood in New York, and just tried to hear their stories about their encounters, and tried to empathize and think about what they go through as well,” she said.
Since its Sundance premiere, the film has been well received by critics, scoring a 100% rating on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes.
IndieWire’s Kate Erbland called it a “candid abortion drama” that “hits hard.”
Sundance praises its “bracing clarity and understated emotion,” describing it as a story of a teenage girl “making an arduous journey, through which a bigger statement emerges — that of reclaiming her body and her spirit.”
The film is scheduled to be released on March 13, 2020, by Focus Features. It was also selected to compete for the Golden Bear in the main competition section at the 70th Berlin International Film Festival.