NEW YORK (CNS) -- Misguided values permeate writer-director Eliza Hittman's desolate abortion-themed drama "Never Rarely Sometimes Always" (Focus). In fact, the film's basic message is that it ought to be easier for its protagonist to have her unborn child killed.
Autumn (Sidney Flanigan), a 17-year-old high school student from rural Pennsylvania, is at odds with everything in her hardscrabble environment, including the schoolmate who impregnated her. So, from the time she first suspects that she's going to have a baby, she's resolved to do away with it instead.
Discovering, via the internet, that Pennsylvania law requires her to obtain her parents' permission to have an abortion, Autumn sets out for New York City, accompanied and abetted by her cousin Skylar (Talia Ryder) who funds the trip by pilfering cash from the supermarket where they both work as checkout clerks. The narrative presents this as justified because the store's manager is a sexually harassing jerk.
As Autumn and Skylar bond along their journey, they encounter Jasper (Theodore Pellerin), a music fan on his way to Gotham to go clubbing. Though savvy Skylar brushes him off, Jasper persists in inviting his new acquaintances to join him for a night on the town.
The feminism on offer in Hittman's script is one that views all males as predators. That naturally includes Jasper who, despite an initially amiable appearance, later turns out to be fully prepared to take advantage of Autumn and Skylar's vulnerability when the duo is forced to spend a longer time away from home than they had expected and also run out of money.
The same ideology shapes the movie's depiction of the staff of a pro-life pregnancy center back in Autumn and Skylar's hometown. They're portrayed as manipulative liars who deliberately mislead Autumn about how far along she is. They also show her a video about the harsh reality of abortion.
Not so, of course, the employees of the Brooklyn Planned Parenthood-style facility where Autumn eventually finds her version of refuge. They couldn't be more caring or compassionate.
The bottom line in "Never Rarely Sometimes Always" is that we're meant to sympathize with -- and be troubled by -- Autumn's ordeal. But at least she emerges from it alive.
The film contains a benign view of abortion and theft, a non-graphic aberrant sexual act, brief medical gore, partial nudity, mature references, including to rape and physical abuse, and at least one use each of profane, rough and crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is O -- morally offensive. The Motion Picture Association rating is PG-13 -- parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.
(Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.)
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