Directed by Carl Hunter in his debut feature, and starring Bill Nighy, Sometimes Always Never is a curiously eccentric film that creates ripples of Wes Anderson idiosyncrasies through it visuals but it also holds an inquisitive melancholy, with less of a whimsical nature, by focusing in on loss, dysfunctional family relationships whilst simultaneously highlighting the nature of reflection. It’s smart, but subtle with it.
Written by Frank Cottrell Boyce, Nighy plays Alan, a Father and Grandfather who’s searching for his missing son. Hunter’s film isn’t your usual ‘missing person’ affair though because it goes beyond that with a character study of those left behind, their estranged connections and it does it with poignancy and positive intentions.
Opening on Crosby Beach in Merseyside, among Antony Gormley’s ‘Another Place’ sculptures, we see Alan standing alone, umbrella up and chatting on the phone to his son Peter (Sam Riley). There’s a meeting about to take place between them and although we don’t know what it’s about yet, the conversation leads us to believe that Alan either enjoys making things up or designing the situation he’s in before others know. Trying to be one step ahead, if you will. Over the course of the Sometimes Always Never, we’ll learn about the lead two and their connection, and disconnection, between each other. Nighy and Riley are charismatic from start to finish, you’re eager for them to understand each other and yet you feel like they already do, they just need to find that something they’ve forgotten.
Scrabble plays a large part in proceedings and it’s nice to see the game celebrated in a progressive, intelligent way because Alan is a master at it and, along the way, you’ll learn a whole host of words and ideas you probably haven’t considered before. Remember, play the man/woman, not the board. Due to Cottrell Boyce’s exquisitely tight script, Hunter’s film also takes on the feel of a play and you could easily see this transferred to the stage.
When you add an absolutely sterling co-starring cast of Jenny Agutter, Alice Lowe, Tim McInnerny and Louis Healy, then you’ve got something special but for all its oddities that you’ll discover, it happily transports you somewhere else. Director Hunter and Cinematographer Richard Stoddard opt for interesting framing throughout, as well as that aforementioned Anderson-like style, the visual emphasis on everyday things like Ice Cream vans contrasting with the grey skies, half-empty B&B’s and lines of interesting-shaped houses put the spotlight on things we don’t always pay attention to.
If you’ve ever been to the seaside out of season, you’ll recognise the atmosphere and how it reflects into the Alan and Peter’s lives. There’s also a welcomingly noticeable opposing aesthetics of oranges and yellows in the home, to the green and grey of the woods and seaside. Alongside an occasional vignette framing, the zoomed-out shots of conversions take in the bigger picture, echoing a photo you might see. Much like someone’s following your life without you realising.
The title ‘Sometimes Always Never’ means something as well, of which you’ll learn, and the story offers the audience both poignant reflection and moments for reconciliation. As the credits roll, with an original song from Edwyn Collins and Sean Read, you’d have experienced a bittersweet film that’s also found a way to give us unique, original storytelling.