Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB
USA/United Kingdom, 2020. BBC Films, Cinereach, Mutressa Movies, PASTEL, Rooftop Films, Tango Entertainment. Screenplay by Eliza Hittman. Cinematography by Helene Louvart. Produced by Lia Buman, Rose Garnett, Tim Headington, Sara Murphy, Alex Orlovsky, Elika Portnoy, Adele Romanski. Music by Julia Holter. Production Design by Meredith Lippincott. Costume Design by Olga Mill. Film Editing by Scott Cummings. Berlin Film Festival 2020. Boston Film Critics 2020. Gotham Awards 2020. Independent Spirit Awards 2020. National Board of Review Awards 2020. National Society of Film Critics Awards 2020. New York Film Critics Awards 2020. Online Film Critics Awards 2020. Philadelphia Film Critics Awards 2020. Washington Film Critics Awards 2020.
Eliza Hittman follows her dark and disturbing Beach Rats with another tale of a young person in crisis. Sidney Flanigan is superb as Autumn, a teenager in a small Pennsylvania town who learns during a visit to her local underfunded, conservatively-minded medical clinic that she is ten-weeks pregnant. She knows she doesn’t want the baby and also knows that this clinic won’t help her with that, preferring to play her manipulative videos about the dangers of abortion and encouraging adoption instead. At home, she feels isolated from communicating with her mother thanks to the presence of her rough and unwelcoming stepfather (Ryan Eggold), so she and her cousin Skylar, with whom she works as a checkout girl at the local supermarket, fill their pockets with money from the till and head to New York City. Autumn has made an appointment at a clinic there, but they tell her she’s further along than initially thought and needs to go to a different location across town the next morning for a more complicated procedure that will take longer than expected. She and Skylar haven’t brought a lot of money and spend white nights awake and killing time in the Big Apple, lugging around a huge suitcase (Hittman’s charming indication of their youth) until Autumn can fulfil her appointment, then leaning on an acquaintance they met on the bus (Théodore Pellerin) to get them out of a jam when they realize they’re stranded. Hittman’s position on abortion isn’t hard to suss out, chances are if you’re the type of person to stand on a street corner with an angry, hand-painted sign you won’t find yourself comforted here, but her position on drama is exactly what it should be, carefully playing out all the necessary points of the story in a wholly natural and spontaneous manner; we get a well-rounded sense of the situation that this character finds herself in and are reminded that, regardless of our own individual feelings on the issue, it’s not a decision made in a vacuum and respect must be paid to the circumstances that surround someone having to make it. Hittman treats her lead character with a great deal of delicate consideration, generous to the hardship of her life without ever exploiting her for pity porn, faltering only in two brief moments in the accomplishment of making her film feel close to documentary: a tracking shot over Autumn’s face after she first hears her baby’s heartbeat is manipulative, and a later scene of her grabbing Skylar’s hand while she makes out with Pellerin (more or less for cash, the Harsh World Lecture moment of the film) has a kind of Female Solidary symbolism that feels student-film-level mawkish. Minor quibbles, however, particularly in light of the magnificent work being done by newcomer Flanigan, whose performance when she is interviewed for intake at the clinic is the centre of the film, asked a series of questions that elicit a response from the actress that is devastating.