Word for Word

Sometimes Always Never

by Hope Madden

Veteran British writer Frank Cottrell Boyce (Welcome to Sarajevo, Millions) adapts his own short story of a grieving if dapper tailor, a not-so-prodigal son, making the best of a sad substitute, and Scrabble.

Thanks to the vision of first time feature director Carl Hunter, Sometimes Always Never enjoys an eccentrically stylish, elegantly odd presentation. Hunter, in turns, finds those exact same characteristic in its sublime lead, Bill Nighy.

The film tags along as dapper Alan (Nighy) and his son Peter (Sam Riley) drive some distance together. They’ve been summoned to an out-of-town morgue to identify a body.

Between Hunter’s deliberate framing and set composition and Nighy’s droll but endearing presence, the film cannot help but charm. But the delightful and eye-catching style belies a grieving heart.

Nighy, of course, is brilliant—and how fun is it to watch him lead a film rather than take the screen as some minor if wonderful character? In his hands, Alan is unknowable but not intimidating. He’s spry and precisely drawn, never sentimental for a beat, and yet endlessly tender. Nighy owes Boyce a great debt for creating such a beautifully layered odd duck, and all of us owe Nighy even more for bringing Alan to life in his inimitable way.

Hunter surrounds his lead with a solid ensemble committed to understatement. Riley’s emotional turmoil has a resigned, lived-in quality that’s both sad and sweet. Jenny Agutter and Tim McInnerny (Severance), likewise, deliver the human contradiction of comedy and tragedy, while Alice Lowe (Prevenge) is just the sweetheart the film needs for balance.

Balance is an excellent word—though it may not net as many points as some more strategic choices, or is it as fun to say as “soap.” But in terms of the visuals versus the dialog, or the emotional versus the comedic, Hunter keeps a grip and never lets the film tip this way or that.

That doesn’t always feel true to the profound tragedy that has befallen this family and has caused, slowly but surely over the many years, the fractures Alan is attempting to mend. This pain too often feels overlooked, becoming a slight that keeps Sometimes Always Never from reaching its own cinematic potential.

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