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Eliza Hittman On Directing One Of The Best Movies Of The Year, ‘Never Rarely Sometimes Always’

It isn’t the ideal situation, but director Eliza Hittman (who lives in New York City and is acutely aware of how bad things are right now) seems to, sort of at least, be coming around to the idea of her critically lauded Sundance favorite, Never Rarely Sometimes Always being released on VOD this weekend. (You can literally watch this movie at home, right now, as you are reading this.) Reading between the lines, yeah, it has to be disappointing: a filmmaker works so hard on a project, then it somehow breaks through at a major film festival, destined to be something we talk about the entire year. Then, on top of that, the subject matter of the film itself was something that would have been, and still will be, so important to so many people, and young women in particular. Now, it’s all thrown into flux.

Never Rarely Sometimes Always follows Autumn (Sidney Flanigan, who is fantastic) as she travels from her home in Pennsylvania to New York City to get an abortion. Her procedure is a two-day process, so, with no money, she has to navigate the streets of New York overnight. It’s a harrowing, almost precisely surgical look at what a young woman has to do to get this procedure in America right now, in a movie that not only avoids melodrama, but is decidedly adverse to such a thing. (Which, as Hittman explains, was very much by design.) And now, as politicians take even more rights away under the guise of COVID-19 protections, this is a movie more necessary than ever. (Again, it’s on VOD right now and is one of the best movies of the year. You have nothing else to do. You should watch this.)

Where are you at in the world right now?

I’m in New York. I’m in the epicenter.

Yeah, I am here too, staying inside. And all this has led to your movie being put out on VOD early. You did an interview last week where you didn’t seem totally into that idea. Has that changed?

On this decision? I think my preference would have been to have a theatrical release, for people to see in a movie and theaters to sort of build an audience nationally through theatrical. Of course, we just have no way of knowing when that would have been possible again.

That’s true.

So I think that in lieu of being able to plan, being able to have that theatrical release and with all of the energy and momentum around the movie, hopefully people will be able to find the VOD and still see it.

If I’m in your position, after all the praise at Sundance, I’d feel the same way. But people are begging for stuff to watch right now and this is one of the best movies of the year.

I feel lucky that I have that I played at Sundance and that we won Berlin. We had such a great reception, and obviously the life of so many other movies is kind of unclear at the moment. So I just feel lucky that the film has premiered. The reception has been wonderful. I’m lucky that we didn’t decide to wait to screen for Cannes. I feel very lucky.

And also the topic of this movie is very important right now because I’m sure you’ve noticed there are politicians out there…

Yes. We have three states that have decided that abortion is not essential. I hope that the film on VOD reaches young women, like the character in the film, possibly speak to their vulnerability during these times.

Have you thought about how to get to tie this movie into that message with what you just said, with what’s going on? Is there a way to do that?

We were kind of in constant communication with Planned Parenthood about the release, theatrical and VOD, and we’re working with them to hopefully to help the film reach a vulnerable audience.

I know this isn’t the point of the movie, but a good portion takes place in New York City. And in the movie there are people everywhere and it’s all just so upsetting right now…

I’ve left my apartment not very many times. We’ve been asked to stay at home, so I don’t even really have a sense of what the city is like. All I know at the moment is my messy apartment.

I’m right there with you with the messy apartment.

I live sort of between two hospitals. I hear the shrieking sirens at my window all day all night.

When I watched this movie, I was reminded of Fast Times at Ridgemont High. The arc with Jennifer Jason Leigh’s character getting an abortion was one of the first times I had ever seen that portrayed in a film. The first time I saw it, there’s actually a scene of the procedure, which reminded me of a scene in your movie. Then I found out later that scene was only included on a broadcast version.

Yeah. I didn’t rewatch that film when I was writing Never Rarely. What I thought about was Hal Hartley’s Trust, which also has a character who goes and gets an abortion. And one of the pivotal scenes of that movie takes place with the nurse and Adrienne Shelly has this long conversation. That was a scene that I think was inside me when I was thinking about this film. I remember it because the nurse opens up a bottle of whiskey and pours Adrienne Shelly some whiskey when they talk about her decision to get an abortion. That’s very kind of intimate and personal. That kind of darkly comic moments.

Well, your movie is very intimate and personal. And you avoid any overly dramatic moments. There’s no shouting match.

Yeah. I feel like, for me, I never want my film to culminate in a dramatic emotional confrontation. It’s just not the kind of drama that I’m making. The drama of the film is in the obstacles that this character is encountering from beginning to end. It’s not a relationship drama. It’s not a family drama. And if anything, it’s like kind of a personal, bureaucratic odyssey. And that, for me, was important. And any time things felt too melodramatic or something, I would tone it down, scale it back. But I don’t know if it ever really went very far in that direction.

As a filmmaker, why does that turn you off?

I don’t know. I just have this compass in me that helps me navigate tone and in all of those creative decisions. It goes off when I veer into unwanted territory.

Well, I know this isn’t how you envisioned the film being released, but I think people will watch it. I think things will work out.

Thank you. I appreciate it. I hope so.

‘Never Rarely Sometimes Always’ is now available via VOD, Amazon Prime, and other on-demand streaming services. You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.