Sidney Flanigan in “Never Rarely Sometimes Always.” (Focus Features)

Autumn (Sidney Flanigan) is a high school student who looks just as unhappy as most of her peers in an unnamed Pennsylvania town.

Quiet and reserved, she doesn’t have friends and isn’t close with her mother or stepfather (Sharon Van Etten and Ryan Eggold).

Autumn’s closest confidante is her cousin Skylar (Talia Ryder), who works with her at the local supermarket.

When Autumn discovers that she’s pregnant, she tries to induce an abortion by punching herself in the stomach and overdosing on vitamin C.

The two travel to Manhattan, embarking on an odyssey that reminds filmgoers of the superb Romanian drama 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days.
Eliza Hittman was inspired to make Never Rarely Sometimes Always as a feminist response to what she perceived as the male gaze.
With a naturalistic style that favors intense close-ups, Hittman plunges viewers into the subjectivity of her protagonists, whose jumble of feelings — dread and confusion, determination and ambivalence, resignation and relief — play out with every glance and gesture, and few words.

Talia Ryder, “Never Rarely Sometimes Always.” Focus Features.

Autumn is a cipher-like character, and newcomer Flanigan plays her with such understatement. It comes as a shock when, in a crucial scene at a women’s clinic, she finally gives in to the welter of emotions that she’s kept in check.

Flanigan is undergoing an astonishing transformation in real time.  It’s a moment that brings the audience to a place that transcends moralizing or more thoughtful equivocation.

If Autumn is the protagonist of “Never,” it’s Skylar who emerges as the hero, with Ryder playing her character with the right blend of self-sacrifice and resolute grit.

The film never spells out the precise circumstances of Autumn’s pregnancy. It does portray, however, in detail the aggressions that Skylar is forced to endure on a daily basis, from being creeped on by a customer and assaulted by her manager to deflecting the flirtatious banter of a young man on the bus to New York.

In “Never Rarely Sometimes Always,” Hittman presents the complexities of the abortion debate, with great empathy and outright anger.

Sidney Flanigan as Autumn
Talia Ryder as Skylar
Théodore Pellerin as Jasper
Ryan Eggold as Ted
Sharon Van Etten as Mother
Kelly Chapman as Social Worker
Kim Rios Lin as Anesthesiologist
Drew Seltzer as Manager Rick
Carolina Espiro as Financial Advisor