I’m a huge Oscars fan. I once recorded a commentary for Chicago Public Radio about how seriously I take Oscars parties (back when we had them…sniff.). One year, I even compiled a list of favorite Oscar moments for this blog.
Although the ceremony will be different this year, I will nonetheless capture as much of it as I can on You Tube Monday night. But although I’ve only seen about half of the nominated films, I know right now that I will already be disappointed by the results.
And that’s because one film from 2020 that really deserved recognition didn’t get it: Never, Rarely, Sometimes, Always. Yeah, I know the Oscars are cheesy and they overlook good films every year. But the Oscars also matter. And I really would have liked to have seen this small, Indie movie have its day in the sun.
Never/Rarely is a film about a 17-year old girl seeking to terminate a pregnancy. I realize that topic may be unpalatable to some for all sorts of reasons, so by all means stop reading this review if it is. But I still think this is a film worth seeing, for a variety of reasons:
a. It’s understated. First of all, Never Rarely is not message-y. While the writer/director Eliza Hittman’s politics – and punchline – are clear, this is one of the most understated films on a highly contentious issue I’ve ever seen. I appreciated that. I hate being proselytized to, even on a message with which I might be otherwise be inclined to agree. (See much of Michael Moore’s oeuvre, for example).
b. It’s grim. The film is also profoundly sad. There’s a scene where the protagonist answers some questions about her sex life with a counselor that is quietly devastating. That’s largely down to the performance from newcomer Sidney Flanigan. I’m not much for feel-good films, so this bleakness worked for me.
c. It’s about social class in America. In this sense, the film shares one theme with Minari, another 2020 filmic wonder that *has* gotten the attention it deserves. Never Rarely explores what happens when you don’t have enough money, and the lengths you need to go to achieve things that are trivial for someone else with more privilege. As Hittman explains in an interview in The Guardian, the real enemy in this film are the wider social structures that keep this girl down, not any one person in particular.
d. It’s about self-determination. One may differ on the abortion question, but one can’t deny the pluck and resourcefulness the main character and her cousin display in their efforts to get this procedure done. In this sense, Never Rarely is also a very American film.
e. It’s beautifully acted. Flanigan isn’t the only one to deliver a tour de force performance. So does her co-start Talia Ryder, and all the minor characters who dot this harsh but flinty coming-of-age story.