Independent film: If a film about abortion could change mentalities, it’s this one

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Sidney Flanigan as “Autumn” and Talia Ryder as “Skylar” in “Never Rarely Sometimes Always,” which screens Thursday at PMA Films. Photo courtesy of Focus Features

When something is described to me as a “political movie,” I smile, nod, and silently cross the title in question off my mental to-watch list. That doesn’t mean I’m not a politically minded person. Just ask the many acquaintances who have blocked or muted me online. It’s just that for me, going to the cinema has always been something sacred. Many noble and noble causes have created a cinematic experience that is deadly boring and dauntingly prosaic, while conversely some of my most reviewed films are gleefully irresponsible.

Which is not to say that some of my most beloved films are, deep down, deeply committed to conveying something profoundly political. (By the way, the films of American independent director John Sayles are a masterclass.) It’s more that these films are films first. When a filmmaker enters a project post, more often than not the post becomes the main character – and I’ve yet to come across a post that I want to spend 90 minutes watching.

The most effective way to get a point across in a fictional film is to base the story on the character. And, with PMA Films’ Thursday screening of writer-director Eliza Hittman’s drama “Never Rarely Sometimes Always,” we get a powerful, low-key, and ultimately persuasive film about abortion. There’s no doubt where Hittman stands in presenting the story of a 17-year-old girl’s perilous and perilous journey to end her unwanted pregnancy, just as the film succeeds on its own terms as a compelling character study, not just of the main character Autumn (excellent newcomer Sidney Flanigan), but also the fiercely loyal cousin (also awesome Talia Ryder as Skylar) who, feeling the need for her friend, joins to a trip out of state.

I would call “Never Rarely Sometimes Always” timely, but for the appalling fact that the movie was made before the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade just a few months ago. Yet for Autumn, a Pennsylvania resident, parental consent laws and an unstable family situation present countless obstacles. Indeed, Hittman quietly portrays the many costly, humiliating, and bureaucratically infuriating hurdles that even women in the film’s pre-SCOTUS decision-making landscape must navigate.

A so-called “crisis pregnancy center” that Autumn initially visits is actually just a front for the anti-abortion persuasion (and also lies to Autumn about her pregnancy status). The trip to New York (which has no parental consent rules in place) exceeds the teenager’s financial resources, leading to his co-workers Skylar and Autumn stealing from the cash register. The true state of her pregnancy, when assessed by the real women’s health experts at New York Planned Parenthood, requires both a second night’s stay in the expensive city and a heartbreaking night trying to sleeping in the subway, avoiding the police and random men. two exhausted and penniless girls as prey. When a persistent young creep (Théodore Pellerin) hints at a loan in exchange for Skylar’s complacency, Hittman shows a gesture between the two girls of such tenderness and subtle sisterhood that it breaks your heart in of them.

Throughout, Flanigan constantly wars against Autumn’s resolve with his obvious fear. Determination prevails, the tenacity of the young girl in her already decided choice to control her future emerging as a mundane but truly heroic quest. With the girls facing a world seemingly designed to thwart their will and potential at every turn, their low-key but rock-solid friendship is irresistibly easy to take root. It’s not until Autumn faces a series of questions from a Planned Parenthood counselor about her family life, sexual history, and relationships with boys that Flanigan allows Autumn’s deadpan strength to crumble.

The questions are standard and familiar to any woman, with the counselor waiting patiently as Autumn’s eyes scan the room, with Flanigan captured by Hittman in one unbroken shot. Asked about such everyday and mundane issues as domestic violence, sexual coercion, and sexual abuse (multiple-choice answers make up the film’s title), Autumn, her voice cracking, can only answer some. For others, she cannot speak at all. The scene contextualizes Autumn and Skylar’s journey with delicate eloquence, though the implications — for Autumn and countless girls and women like her — land like a punch in the gut.

Look, a movie isn’t going to change the world. If it were possible, undeniably powerful and wonderful anti-war films like “Come and See”, “Paths of Glory”, “Grand Illusion” or “Grave of the Fireflies” would make us all live in harmony. ‘Malcolm X’, ‘Selma’ or ‘Do the Right Thing’ would have solved racism, and ‘Milk’ and ‘Angels in America’ would make anti-LGBTQ bigotry what is most definitely and disgustingly left. . But can a movie change your mind?

I like to think so. Movies are powerful things. Seeing the right movie at the right time has certainly changed me – for the better – at different points in my life. And while I’m sure I’m already on the side of “Never Rarely Sometimes Always,” there’s a power here that I think strikes right at the heart of the abortion debate. (Which, if this leftist pinko might be of the opinion, is that women are human beings who deserve to make their own decisions about their own lives, health, and future. Radical stuff, I know.) Hittman tells the story of Autumn, and that, in the skilful Hittman. writing and directing are enough.

Autumn is talented (we see her determinedly silence high school rowdies during the film’s opening musical performance), smart, and tough. She’s also brooding, brooding, and sometimes thoughtless — you know, a teenager. Presented with a situation that threatens her already slim chance of escaping the messy domestic situation of her loving but overwhelmed and overburdened mother (along with her creepy, half-formed stepfather), Autumn makes a choice. The fact that the world around her is built to belittle her, assail her, and discourage her in a million soul sapping ways makes her eventual successes all the more admirable.

Abortion as a concept grounds people. Despite an overwhelming percentage of support from Americans, the right to choose (go ahead and get angry – I’ve got the facts) laws, overwhelmingly written by men, continues to impose hardship on women imposed by ideology. (While “Never Rarely Sometimes Always” is about one girl’s story, the significant and telling disparities in the difficulties based on race, class, and location are sobering.)

A movie like “Never Rarely Sometimes Always” gets to the heart of the matter by focusing on an ordinary girl and implicitly asking viewers if they have the right – or the stomach – to look into Autumn’s eyes as she answers those titular questions in this heartbreaking scene and tell him she has no right to make her own decisions. The entrenched will say no, but an intimate, powerful, and deeply personal movie like this can, at least, force them to look away while they do it. It’s a start, I guess.

“Never Rarely Sometimes Always” plays in the Bernard Osher Foundation Auditorium at the Portland Museum of Art at 6 p.m. Thursday. Co-presented with Planned Parenthood of Maine, the film is rated PG-13 and is one hour and 41 minutes long. For more information, visit portlandmuseum.org.

Dennis Perkins is a freelance writer who lives in Auburn with his wife and cat.


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