When “Never Rarely Sometimes Always” opened on March 13, the world was different. America was only just beginning to take the coronavirus seriously. Movie theaters hadn’t yet shuttered en masse. But even then, director Eliza Hittman was justifiably disappointed to see her film debut amid mounting global panic. “The impact that it might have on the release makes me really sad,” she told me that week.
Still, Hittman insisted that “Never Rarely Sometimes Always” — a Sundance standout about a working-class teenager (newcomer Sidney Flanigan) trekking from rural Pennsylvania to New York City to obtain an abortion — was “not a streaming movie.” She wanted people to see it on a big screen, their attention undivided.
To her point, a drama this hushed and wrenching does not make for passive viewing. More importantly, small indie films count on word-of-mouth marketing to reach the mainstream. But since mid-March, studios have fast-tracked a handful of current and upcoming titles to video-on-demand services (e.g., iTunes, Amazon Prime Video and cable systems like Comcast and Spectrum), giving shut-ins access to “The Invisible Man,” “Birds of Prey,” “Trolls World Tour” and more when theaters can’t. Focus Features, the distributor behind “Never Rarely,” opted to take the same route, despite Hittman’s earlier preference.
Focus considered re-releasing it in July, Hittman said by phone on Friday, but no one knows whether life will be back to normal then. A VOD premiere is the right move these days, and she more or less agrees. The film, which deserves to be seen by the widest possible audience, would have gotten lost in the deluge of delayed movies once the COVID-19 pandemic passes.
“Because we’re living in such an open-ended nightmare and because we have states in the country that are trying to restrict access [to abortions], I think I’m just happy the film is out there for people to watch at this very vulnerable...