“SOMETIMES ALWAYS NEVER”
Photos | Hurricane Films
Bill Nighy undercuts the gentle quirkiness of “Sometimes Always Never” with an unpredictable mean streak, which all adds up to another great performance from the beloved geezer. He plays a single father who lost one of his two sons years ago when the young man ran away from home. No one knows if he is dead or alive; he is literally lost to them. This visually interesting, weirdly paced film follows the family that remains as they continue to cope with his absence and some new clues that suggest he might be trying to get in touch.
The word game Scrabble connects the people and events of “Sometimes Always Never,” and the fact that a board game generates the suspense of this film tells you everything you need to know about the general vibe going on. I consider this to be a strength, I assure you. The strong performances create a great deal of drama out of a small amount of action, and it mostly works. The night the runaway son, Michael, left the family, it was over an argument about a game of Scrabble, and bereft father Alan (Nighy) has been obsessed ever since.
Nighy makes the most unpredictable, sarcastic grieving parent you can imagine. He brings a sprightliness even to the sad task of passing out a missing person flyer, with the extremely outdated childhood photo of Michael, which belies the tragic nature of his actions. When the film begins, Alan and his other son, Peter, are driving to a morgue to look at an unidentified body that might be Michael. Peter (Sam Riley) is mournful and serious, but the sardonically perky Alan sees fit to win £200 at a game of Scrabble against another traveling couple.
Jenny Agutter and Tim McInnerny perfectly fill out their large supporting roles as that couple, who end up with a coincidental connection to Alan that becomes a big part of the story. Something I liked about this film was all the fully realized peripheral characters. Riley is excellent as the son, who is now a father himself, and a lot of the film’s time is spent with him and his family after Alan comes to stay with them, for reasons that are never explained. His own teenage son (Louis Healy) has some of the most coherent and satisfying scenes with Nighy — including the one that gives the film its title — when Nighy, a retired tailor, explains when to button each coat button. (Top, sometimes; middle, always; bottom, never.)
Indeed, there is a lot that is never explained in this film, which I think was an intentional choice rather than an oversight. There was something almost dreamlike in the order of some of the events. In the end, the weird way time occurs in the film emphasizes the sense of suspended time and disorientation the grieving father feels for all the years after his son has been gone. Sometimes, the pacing made it difficult to follow what was happening, so if this was intentional, I think they overshot.
What really sets “Sometimes Always Never” apart is the idiosyncratic look of the film. Wes Anderson-ish flourishes, saturated colors in the interiors and graphic flights of fancy create a sense of whimsy at the oddest times. Perhaps we are meant to be inside Alan’s head. If so, it is a strange place. The quirky impulses and highly personal details could have been tightened up so the effect was stronger. I appreciated the strangeness, but it was also uneven.
While it wasn’t extraordinary, “Sometimes Always Never” was very memorable and interesting. I almost want to watch it again to simply absorb the atmosphere, now that I know what is going to happen. Certainly, it is worth watching just for Bill Nighy. But against the strength of his starring role, there is an unusually robust background of both sets and characters. This film is such a strange bird I cannot predict what a viewer’s reaction might be, but I think it is worth watching and finding out for yourself.
“Sometimes Always Never” is currently available to rent.
New This Week
“Come Away”: Peter Pan and his sister, Alice, embark on adventures to Neverland and Wonderland. Eastern Shore Premiere Cinema.
“Fatman”: A neglected, precocious and wealthy 12-year-old hires a hitman to kill a rowdy and unorthodox Santa Claus (Mel Gibson!). The boy is facing a large decline in business after receiving a lump of coal in his stocking. Wow, there’s a lot to unpack here. Eastern Shore Premiere Cinema.
“The Last Vermeer”: An artist is suspected of selling a valuable painting to the Nazis, but there is more to the story than meets the eye. Another Claes Bang-starring, art-related movie, hooray! Nexus Cinema Dining.
This page is available to subscribers. Click here to sign in or get access. During the month of December, give (or get) a one year subscription with TWO months FREE.