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Schultz reviews: 'Never Rarely Sometimes Always,' 'Stowaway' and 'Together Together''

Schultz reviews: 'Never Rarely Sometimes Always,' 'Stowaway' and 'Together Together''

Carl Schultz



“Never Rarely Sometimes Always”   Distributed by Focus Features, 101 Minutes, Rated PG-13, Released March 13, 2020:

In the desolate and insightful slice-of-life chronicle “Never Rarely Sometimes Always,” 17-year-old Autumn Callahan (Sidney Flanigan) is a small town girl from rural Pennsylvania who discovers she’s expecting a child and opts to terminate the pregnancy.  Too young to obtain the procedure in Pennsylvania without parental consent and seeking to conceal her condition from her family, Autumn embarks on a bus odyssey to a medical clinic in New York City in the company of her sympathetic cousin Skylar (Talia Ryder) for an abortion.

Unremittingly melancholy but pointedly never preachy or sentimental, “Never Rarely Sometimes Always” doesn’t compel the audience to choose sides on the abortion issue toward either the pro-life or pro-choice factions.  Rather the picture depicts simply and objectively the grim, impersonal reality of one girl’s experience.  And in its impartial and even clinical depiction of a naive teenage girl ending an inconvenient pregnancy, the film makes abundantly clear that abortion is neither a desirable nor emotionally indifferent option.

Written and directed by Eliza Hittman, “Never Rarely Sometimes Always” takes its title from the options in a multiple choice questionnaire administered prior to Autumn’s admission to the New York City health care facility--an interview which ultimately, finally, causes the girl’s stony resolve to break.  

Both filmmaker Hittman and actress Flanigan received a number of prestigious awards and critical accolades for their sensitive and perceptive work on this exceptional picture.  Actor Ryan Eggold of television’s medical drama “New Amsterdam” appears briefly as Autumn’s boorish father.  

A co-production of BBC Films filmed on location in Pennsylvania and New York City, “Never Rarely Sometimes Always” is rated PG-13 for mature, disturbing thematic content, sexual references, and scenes depicting teenage drinking.  The film is presently streaming on Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, YouTube, and HBO Max.

“Stowaway”   Distributed by Netflix, 116 Minutes, Rated TV-MA, Released April 22, 2021:

The “oh, come on” quotient is unusually high in “Stowaway,” the new drama streaming on Netflix that combines elements of science fiction and melodrama with muddled results.

Set in the near future, in “Stowaway” the three-member crew of an exploratory mission to Mars is launched into space to embark on their two-year mission, and along the way are surprised to discover inside an access hatch a member of the space program’s ground crew, injured and unconscious.  Worse luck--their equipment is damaged, and they calculate only enough oxygen to sustain a crew of two. 

Too late to turn back and travelling too fast for a support ship to arrive with additional supplies, the augmented crew is compelled to consider options which include improvisation and reallocating supplies...and self-sacrifice.

With good production values but a plotline that reads less like a viable science fiction fable than a high school math problem, “Stowaway” spends its first hour persuading the viewer of its scientific authenticity and its second hour creating situations and plot elements so laughably improbable (one crew member suffers from vertigo) that you can’t imagine them ever happening anyway.  How can a stowaway go undetected in a spacecraft so stripped-down and weight-conscious that a crew member needs to smuggle a coffee cup aboard?

Virtually everyone who’s ever been there agrees that in space there’s no sensation of altitude--no feeling of up or down in relation to other objects, including planets...or spaceships.  This information renders much of “Stowaway” pointless, including a scene in which the vertiginous astronaut has to climb a pole some 600 feet above the spaceship to access a spare oxygen tank.  It makes very little sense for the tank to be there anyway--like a family storing their frozen food in Iceland instead of a freezer.

It certainly doesn’t help the picture that the crew’s discovery of the stowaway is framed like a scene in nearly every horror movie you’ve ever seen--a crewman hears a strange sound in the overhead, unscrews a panel, and a body drops out.  As the title stowaway, actor Shamier Anderson is personable enough and generates sufficient sympathy to make the audience care about his awkward situation.  But all the sympathy in the world isn’t going to make such a preposterous situation any more plausible.

The movie’s credibility issues extend to its casting.  Displaying more or less the same chirpy optimism that helped turn the three “Pitch Perfect” comedies into enormous box office hits, Anna Kendrick might be the most unlikely astronaut who ever appeared in a science fiction saga.  Early in the mission Kendricks’ character confides to the others, “I applied for (the space program) because I thought it would be a funny story to be rejected.”  It’s one of the most believable lines of dialogue in the picture.

Is the novelty of seeing Anna Kendrick in a spacesuit enough to sustain the audience’s interest in a far-fetched science fiction drama reminiscent of both 1969’s “Marooned” and 2013’s “Gravity”?  Eh, not quite.  “Stowaway” is watchable, but don’t beat yourself up if you miss it.  Note to grandchildren:  Avoid employment with future versions of NASA.

Directed by Joe Penna (“Arctic”) and also including crew members Toni Collette (the mission commander) and Daniel Dae Kim (the one with vertigo), “Stowaway” is rated TV-MA for language concerns.  The picture is now streaming on Netflix.

“Together Together”   Distributed by Bleeker Street Films, 90 Minutes, Rated R, Released April 23, 2021:

In “Together Together,” amiable but uptight and by-the-book middle-aged web designer Matt (Ed Helms) develops an itch to start a family...despite being unattached and unlucky at romance.  So he hires free-spirited but strongminded Anna (Patti Harrison) to act as a surrogate for artificial insemination, and together-together the two mismatched partners navigate the turbulent waters of pregnancy and childbirth while struggling to remain friends.

A mostly aimless seriocomedy with serious overtones, “Together Together” uses a lighthearted approach to the intricacies of childbearing while also taking occasional aim at emotional boundaries and modern generational differences.  Often resembling a series of sketches from an advanced class in acting--an ambiance augmented by a cast filled with standup and improvisational comedy veterans--“Together Together” does manage to form a connection with the audience, thanks mostly to charismatic performances from Helms (TV’s “The Office”) and especially Harrison.

Written and directed by Nikole Beckwith in her second feature film effort, “Together Together” does seem somewhat more skewed toward the female point of view--or at least more sensitive to it.  While Helms plays his role mostly for laughs, the feminist perspective is driven home by Harrison’s sensitive and perceptive performance.  A familiar performer in comedy sketches on television’s “The Tonight Show,” Harrison has a kind of open and expressive face that can transmit volumes of emotion with a glance, a grimace, or a glare.

The major debit of “Together Together” is its meandering, aimless structure.  With only the loosest of plotlines, Beckwith’s screenplay has an unresolved quality, like a puzzle with pieces missing.  Harrison and Helms leave the audience wanting more...but the picture’s abrupt ending will undoubtedly leave many viewers feeling cheated.  And with material this good and performances this likable, that’s a real shame.

Premiere screenings of “Together Together” are preceded by a filmed welcome and introduction from writer and director Beckwith, and followed with a brief discussion of the film hosted by Turner Classic Movies host Dave Karger, with contributions from Beckwith, Harrison, and Helms.  

Filmed over 17 days in late 2019 just prior to the pandemic and lockdown and also featuring performances by Tig Notaro, Rosalind Chao, and SNL veteran Nora Dunn, “Together Together” is rated R for adult situations and language.  Currently playing in limited release in selected movie theaters, the picture is scheduled for release on Video on Demand on May 11, 2021.


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