Two women in intense conversation

Autumn (Sidney Flanigan, left) and Skylar (Talia Ryder) share a difficult journey in Never Rarely Sometimes Always.

HBO is starting to air a subtly powerful film that’s even more relevant now than when it was first released earlier this year. 

Never Rarely Sometimes Always is the story of Autumn (Sidney Flanigan), a 17-year-old Pennsylvania girl with a nightmarish problem. She’s pregnant, but she can’t tell either her mom or the baby’s father for reasons that are suggested but never spelled out. 

Enter her cousin Skylar (Talia Ryder), who is maternally protective toward Autumn even though they’re about the same age. Uncovering Autumn’s dilemma despite her stubborn silence, Skylar volunteers to help her solve it the only way they know how: by sneaking away to New York, a state that, unlike Pennsylvania, will allow her to obtain an abortion without parental consent. 

That, in a nutshell, is the plot. The bulk of the film’s 101 minutes are spent simply following the girls as they catch a bus to NYC, learn to navigate the unfamiliar city and, in general, attempt to complete their somber mission despite unexpected complications and severely limited funds.  

It amounts to an exhausting journey for Autumn and Skylar, and it may be nearly as exhausting for viewers who become impatient with writer-director Eliza Hittman’s unhurried, matter-of-fact approach. But for those who hang in there, the tale is cumulatively powerful, especially after it arrives at the gut-punch of a scene that explains its enigmatic title.

A good deal of the film’s power comes from Flanigan and Ryder’s unaffected portrayals of the grimly determined Autumn and the quietly supportive Skylar, who is the film’s true hero. And perhaps part of it comes from the realization that the girls’ situation could become even more common in the future. 

A recent Supreme Court ruling, which struck down pandemic-related restrictions on houses of worship, was the first reminder that things will be different now that conservatives hold a 6-3 majority. Yet to be determined is whether that same majority will ultimately strike down Roe v. Wade, allowing conservative states to ban abortion outright. That could well come to pass, since opponents tend to ignore the reality that it’s impossible to abolish abortion—it’s only possible to abolish safe and legal abortion, especially for women of limited means.

In other words, Autumn and Skylar’s journey might soon become one that many more women will have to attempt.

Rating: 4½ stars (out of 5)

Never Rarely Sometimes Always (PG-13) is available from VOD outlets and will begin airing Dec. 1 on various HBO channels.   

More reviews by Richard Ades can be found on his blog,