The only thing more honest than the abortion plot line is the depiction of a ride or die friendship.

By Claire Stern
Updated Apr 08, 2020 @ 12:45 pm
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Credit: Focus Features/InStyle.com

Everyone has that one friend they can turn to. That person who will help you, no questions asked, even if the item on the to-do list is incredibly daunting. Or hear you out during a FaceTime therapy session as you reconcile with the idea of quarantine. Your ride or die. In Never Rarely Sometimes Always, Eliza Hittman’s candid abortion drama that premiered to rave reviews at the Sundance Film Festival, that friend (and cousin) is Skylar.

Played by newcomer Talia Ryder, Skylar is supportive and empathetic from the get-go. After an emotionally jarring opening scene where her bestie, Autumn (Sidney Flanigan), is heckled by her presumed abusive ex-boyfriend while performing in a high school talent show, she compliments her raw rendition of “He’s Got the Power” by The Exciters. “You were really good,” she says earnestly, sensing Autumn could use the positive reinforcement.

She’s also observant, practical, and savvy as hell. When she notices Autumn run to the bathroom mid-shift at their supermarket job — where they both regularly endure sexual harassment from their customers and employer — she goes after her, learns she’s pregnant, then demands that their gropey boss let them leave early. He declines, so she pockets cash from the register to give Autumn for her abortion. A true queen.

Credit: Courtesy of Focus Features

As we collectively grapple with the implications of a global pandemic, now more than ever, I’ve realized the importance of enduring friendships. I have a standing Zoom meeting with three of my childhood buddies and a WhatsApp group chat that spans multiple time zones — both of which give me a regular dose of comfort and sanity, even when we drink remotely and talk about nothing. A self-proclaimed extroverted introvert, I find myself craving the social interaction I once shunned in favor of a hot bubble bath and a good book on a Friday night. In times of crisis, it becomes apparent who your real friends are — and this film proves that you’ll want someone around who will ride the proverbial bus with you to a Planned Parenthood clinic in New York and be super low-key about it.

In one particularly frustrating exchange at Port Authority (a frustrating place in its own right), Skylar asks Autumn what they should do since they ran out of money, questioning whether they should give in and call their moms for help, and Autumn tells her to fuck off. Instead of bolting, Autumn discovers Skylar in the bathroom, where she lovingly applies under-eye concealer and lip gloss to Autumn’s tired face.

When I first saw Never Rarely Sometimes Always a month and a half ago, the world was an entirely different place (I went to a screening room packed with people, and I walked there without a mask or gloves on), but re-watching it on my TV in a small room in the midst of the coronavirus made it abundantly clear how pressing and relevant the issues in the film really are. Anti-choice Republican legislators are currently using the public health crisis as an excuse to deny health care to abortion-seeking patients, making Skylar and Autumn’s harrowing journey a grim reality for teenagers in certain states. Like social distancing, if we’re not extra careful, their saga could become the new normal.

In the pantheon of legendary cinematic BFFs — a list that includes Thelma and Louise, Romy and Michele, Lady Bird and Julie, among others — Skylar and Autumn are climbing the charts, thanks in no small part to Skylar’s unwavering loyalty and selflessness. I mean, she literally lets a random dude stick his tongue down her throat just so they can afford bus tickets home to Pennsylvania. If that isn’t friendship, I don’t know what is.

Never Rarely Sometimes Always is available to rent on Amazon and iTunes.

If you have questions about abortion, please contact Planned Parenthood to find your nearest health center or call 1-800-230-PLAN.