Movie Review: “Sometimes Always Never”

Imagine a movie about a widowed father who has been searching for a missing son for years. The father’s second son is still around, now married with a teenager of his own, but the father sees right past him, always hoping for the return of the brother.

Now imagine that this movie isn’t exceptionally dark. Instead, it’s funny without losing the serious undercurrent; it’s warm and tender; it’s full of life and love.

It may sound counterintuitive, but that’s exactly what we get with “Sometimes Always Never” and it’s a truly beautiful thing. Out Friday on VOD (and presumably select theaters if you can find an open one), this tale from director Carl Hunter and writer Frank Cottrell Boyce is something more than just worth watching. It’s worth reveling in.

Bill Nighy stars as Alan, our widowed father, and he brings to the role exactly what Nighy does in his most memorable performances – he makes this a fully fledged human being worth knowing and caring about. Alan is someone who has a way with words—and being a massive fan of Scrabble plays into the story—and Nighy delivers each and every one in heartfelt fashion. The actor turns the smallest of utterances into jokes and what could be light, funny, moments into something with more gravitas. These line readings, paired with his expressive eyes, present the complete picture of a man who is suffering and has been for years, but who can’t find a way past it. It isn’t that he doesn’t care about those around him, like his remaining son, Peter (Sam Riley); Peter’s wife, Sue (Alice Lowe); and their child, Jack (Louis Healy); it’s just that there is a weight tying him to the moment in his past when his other son walked out and never returned.

Riley’s Peter is the perfect companion character to Alan. He is a man who has been forcibly kept in the same place by his father, but there’s a sense that even if he were allowed to move past it, he might not. Peter harbors anger about his childhood and adulthood and the way he was treated, there are a number of times the lost brother is mentioned as the “prodigal son.” More out-and-out dour than Alan, Peter has accepted that his brother will never be found and resents any and all mentions of him.

And so the movie opens with father and son taking a trip to look at an unidentified corpse, and being forced to stay in a bed and breakfast overnight. They are thrust together in a way that Alan likes (if for nothing other than the fact that it reminds him of his missing son), and which Peter would rather avoid.

Even here it sounds as though “Sometimes Always Never” could win an award for being one of the darkest concepts of all time. There is no doubt that there have been many such trips with these two through the years, and that each and every one has ended with the same result. There is no doubt that the loss of Peter’s mother, Alan’s wife, before the brother went missing, has played a crucial role in which both men see their lives. There is no doubt that Peter’s having a single son, and his general relationship with his son and wife, is deeply influenced by the loss of his brother and the constant intrusions of his father.

Instead, Hunter works a magic trick. There are serious aspects of the movie but it is laugh out loud funny. It never loses that sense of darkness around the edges, but it isn’t a movie about death and loss and sadness, it’s one about life and family and hope for the future. It constantly asks the audience to brace for the worst—like when Alan suckers a man he just met, Arthur (Tim McInnerny), into a Scrabble match at the bed and breakfast, only to feel horrible when he learns from Arthur’s wife, Margaret (Jenny Agutter), why they are there—but the worst never quite arrives. It is present though, lingering in the background, hanging like the sword of Damocles, and maybe that’s the point of the movie. Danger and sadness and defeat and death, the movie argues, are always there, always just around the corner, the key is to not allow their inevitability to stop you from living.

Throughout the movie, Hunter shows us all the different ways to let the happiness shine through. It’s there in Nighy’s delivery of lines; Alan, a tailor, getting Jack some suits; Jack’s crush on a girl; and just the constant sense of the love these people have for one another.

It is also there in the way DP Richard Stoddard shoots the film. It is a light and airy movie, with more than a little sense of whimsy. Then, from time to time wide shots appear to have a slight fish eye look to them, which works out to be the perfect encapsulation of the idea of the film: things may be out of sorts at the edges, there may be something more off screen, but right there at the heart of things, the center of the image, all is right and regular and warm and as it should be.

The elements that going into making a film can be thought of as a series of building blocks – they can work in harmony or discord, building something stronger or weaker. “Sometimes Always Never” stacks each of these blocks in just the right way, making something powerful and worth seeing.

four and a half stars

photo credit: Blue Fox Entertainment

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