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(2020) (Sidney Flanigan, Talia Ryder) (PG-13)

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Drama: A teen and her cousin travel to New York for her to have an abortion.

Autumn Callahan (SIDNEY FLANIGAN) is a 17-year-old who lives with her family in a small Pennsylvania town and works as a store clerk alongside her cousin, Skylar (TALIA RYDER). Autumn is thrown for a loop when she realizes she's pregnant, and since she can't get an abortion where she lives, she travels by bus to New York with Skylar to have that done.

There, they meet Jasper (THEODORE PELLERIN), a young man who invites them to a club, but they decline the offer, lying that they're there to see family. But as various complications arise regarding what they thought was going to be a one-day procedure, the teens must fend for themselves in the big city as Autumn prepares to go through with the abortion.

OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10

I recently saw an interesting project where a dad shared a time-lapse video he created featuring several second clips of his daughter's life from birth through the age of twenty, each taken every week of her life. What was most intriguing -- and heartbreaking -- was how the girl seemed quite happy for much of her pre-teen life, but noticeably less so after that.

Granted, I have no details about her, her health, family life and so on, and some of the raw emotions that are presented in the second half can be attributed to normal teen, hormone-based mood swings. Nonetheless, the change in her is haunting and even the moments of smiling appear forced to some degree as compared to genuine earlier on.

Not just applicable to her, but to many teenage girls, some -- and sometimes a lot -- of that can be attributed to societal views and behavior toward girls as compared to boys. Writer/director Eliza Hittman explores a great deal of that in her latest drama, "Never, Rarely, Sometimes, Always," named after the four possible answers to a series of questions posed to the film's protagonist, 17-year-old Autumn (Sidney Flanigan), by an abortion clinic worker who's evaluating the teen before she undergoes such a procedure.

And those answers could be extrapolated to any number of negative things in her life, ranging from being called a "slut" during a high school talent show performance (where the song's lyrics tell us everything we need to know about the pic's theme) to her stepfather obviously not liking her, having a pervert for a boss, and, yes, the results of having teenage sex where the responsible boy gets off scot-free with no repercussions or difficult decisions while Autumn ends up pregnant. After unsuccessfully trying to self-abort based on tips she's read on the Internet, she travels with her cousin, Skylar (Talia Ryder), from their small Pennsylvania town to New York to have an abortion.

Interestingly enough, Hittman doesn't focus on the girl's quandary so much as a moral/ethical dilemma, but rather a practical one where various obstacles must be overcome. That includes the bus trip to the Big Apple, learning the clinic she's gone to can't perform the procedure because she's further along than she thought, having no place to stay and eventually running out of money, and having to contend with a young man (Theodore Pellerin) who's obviously set his sights on Skylar and whose cash they'll later need (resulting in a suggested sexual quid pro quo to get that).

The whole thing is pretty much a grim assessment of teens growing up in less than ideal places and situations where they're abused left and right in any number of ways as they come to realize where they are in the pecking world of gender inequality. Unlike "Juno" where comedy and snarky dialogue made that teen pregnancy tale entertaining if not always realistic, this one is more of a real-world dramatic odyssey of what and how far some teen girls in trouble have to go.

What helps ease a bit of that is the gritty camaraderie on display between the cousins, two girls sticking by each other through the ordeal because they have no one else to turn to or understand their overall plight. Flanigan and Ryder are quite good in their roles, credibly creating characters that feel nothing short of authentic (no doubt probably stemming -- to one degree or another -- from their own experiences or those they've heard from their friends).

Clearly not everyone's cup of tea, "Never, Rarely, Sometimes, Always" nonetheless comes off like a believable slice of life that shows, like the video I previously mentioned, the impact that real-world gender realities have on teen girls' sense of self and joy. Good, but not necessarily something I'd want to watch again, the film rates as a 6 out of 10.

Reviewed March 31, 2020 / Posted April 3, 2020

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