Never Rarely Sometimes Always

 

            SPOILER ALERT:  It's impossible to talk about this film without revealing what happens.  If you want to be surprised by the ending, don't read this review.

            Autumn (Sidney Flanigan) and Skylar (Talia Ryder) are two teenaged cousins who live in rural Pennsylvania.  They go to the same school, and work at the same store as cashiers.  We first meet Autumn as she plays guitar and sings in a school talent show (the other acts are just as amateurish). Her original song, rudely interrupted by catcall, is something about a boyfriend who doesn't treat her right. Afterwards, Autumn is with her family at a fast food restaurant, where her Dad refuses to tell her she did well.  He says something about how hard it is to compliment someone who rarely speaks.  So we get the impression that he thinks she's got an attitude.  Later, at home, Mom just seems harried and exhausted.  Dad showers affection on the dog, but not anybody else.  Autumn goes to her room and drives a safety pin through her nose as a nostril piercing. 

            But Writer/Director Eliza Hittman quickly leaves the family dynamics, unresolved as they are, and carries us immediately to a Women's Clinic the next day, where Autumn tests positively.  Yes, she's pregnant.  She doesn't really react emotionally to this significant news.  But she doesn't tell anyone in her family, either.  We see (and hear) the sonogram along with her, as they joyfully inform her she's eight weeks along.  She looks online at home “remedies,” and manages, with difficulty, to swallow a bunch of vitamin C pills, which of course doesn't have the desired effect.  When she returns to the Clinic, they show her an anti-abortion video, completely with photographs of fetuses and explanations about their development. 

            She can no longer hide her condition from Skylar, at the next cash register, when Autumn suddenly runs to the bathroom to throw up.  Skylar, at least, is supportive.  Since she doesn't inquire about the relationship that led up to this situation, the viewers don't learn anything about that, either.  All we know is that there is no guy around.  Through internet research, Autumn and Skylar discover that in Pennsylvania, parental consent is required for minors. But not in New York.  So, they decide to hop on the bus to New York City together, without much money, and no contingency plan.

            The first clinic informs Autumn that she's actually 18 weeks along, not 10, and therefore in the 2nd trimester, which means they'll have to refer her to a clinic in Manhattan.  This throws the girls a curve, because they don't have money for a hotel, so they wind up wandering around by themselves, lugging a suitcase.  Subways and station lobbies.  All-night arcades.  They'd met a young man on the bus, who gave them his number, so when they run out of money they text him.  He seems to be interested in taking Skylar downtown to a live music club, but Skylar doesn't want to abandon Autumn.  The clinic in Manhattan, after a required session with a counselor filling out a personal questionnaire (see title) informs her it's a two-day procedure, which means another night of wandering, but this time with no money at all, because Autumn needed to pay the clinic what she had (and presumably work out a plan to pay the rest).  Thankfully, for them, the young man “loans” them money for the bus ticket back home, though he has to go to an ATM, and we wonder how nefarious his intentions might be.  At the clinic, they keep asking her if she's sure, and by this time the viewer has identified enough with her to wonder the same thing.

            This is a raw, unvarnished, and yes, clinical treament of an explosive emotional subject.  The fact that it doesn't devolve into histrionics (ironic pun intended) makes the effect all the more stark and vivid.  This feels real.  And it's impossible to watch without absorbing the incredibly quiet impact.

 

Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association