Review by Camden Ferrell
The British comedy-drama, Sometimes Always Never, serves as the feature directorial debut of Carl Hunter. This movie had its premiere back in 2018 at the London Film Festival. Even though the movie doesn’t make the most of its brief runtime, a confident and consistently strong Bill Nighy gives this movie a strong backbone.
After the disappearance of his son decades earlier after a heated game of Scrabble, Alan has spent years looking for him. When Alan needs to identify a body at a morgue, he is joined by his other son, Peter as they try and repair their damaged relationship. This premise is interesting, but it is most useful in giving its characters depth and long-lasting wounds that the film aims to explore throughout.
Frank Cottrell Bryce’s script does a decent job of using these events to underly the main focus of this movie which is the character’s emotional baggage and their own interactions. Despite its fairly serious subject matter, the film’s protagonist is an avid Scrabble player, and this gives the film its own unique quirk. The game quickly becomes metaphorical in more ways than one, and it proves to be a creative way to establish character traits.
The film succeeds in large part due to its performances. Bill Nighy plays Alan, and he is the driving force behind the movie. He plays a deeply troubled man, but the way the Nighy masks it through his affinity for Scrabble and his attitude towards his family is rather interesting. The film also benefits from the great supporting performance from Sam Riley who plays Alan’s son Peter. His rocky relationship with Nighy’s character is clearly strained, and both actors do a great job of portraying this turmoil.
The movie does aim to balance its comedy and drama with mixed results. Bryce’s script is undoubtedly witty, and Hunter does employ some quirky visual techniques, but there are times when its comedy can somewhat undermine the serious themes of the film. Luckily, the movie doesn’t go out of its way for a punchline, so the script does feel more natural as a result.
Hunter’s first outing as a feature film director is far from perfect, but it is definitely promising. He has a distinct visual style that sometimes evokes a rather famous idiosyncratic filmmaker. Some moments come off as derivative of an overused style, but there are some really creative visual choices that give the film a unique style.
The biggest flaw with this film is how it allocates its brief ninety minutes. There is a subplot about Alan’s grandson and his love life (the title of the movie comes from these scenes), but it feels inconsequential to the events of the rest of the film. The movie doesn’t devote nearly enough time to Alan and Peter’s strained relationship or the long-term effects of trauma. This is a choice that makes the movie narratively inconsistent and somewhat shallow. Regardless, the movie does have enough virtues in its acting and visual style to overcome these shortcomings.
Sometimes Always Never isn’t the profound family drama that it could have been, but it’s a sweet and simply story that is propelled by Nighy’s fantastic leading performance. It’s a promising albeit imperfect debut from Hunter, and it may be worth a watch upon release.
Sometimes Always Never premieres via Virtual Cinema June 12.