Sometimes Always Never (2018)
A single delicious narrative conceit drives the delightful Sometimes. Always. Never. (2018). It takes its own sweet time getting there, but when it does, it hits home: you can be an expert in words and their rules but be incapable of meaningful expression. Add a Scrabble obsession, mix it with deep grief and guilt, and you have a portrait of a family desperately unable to communicate with each other.
The simplicity of the plotline stands in stark contrast to the complexity of its themes. Dapper rule-bound tailor Alan (Bill Nighy) is told that the body of his long-missing son Michael may have been found. He takes his younger estranged son Peter (Sam Riley) with him to identify the body, and at the morgue they meet other parents who are there for the same reason. It’s a diversion that does little to advance the narrative, but it does provide comic respite from the pain of loss. Both relieved and disappointed with the outcome, Alan invites himself to stay with Peter and his family in the hope of reconciliation.
With a threadbare plot, the power of this film comes from its theatrical settings, intelligent banter, and Nighy’s trademark whimsical mannerisms and stylised performance. The label ‘fantasy drama’ has been applied to this film but is mis-leading and manifestly inadequate. If there is an element of fantasy, it derives from the way many scenes are played out against backgrounds that are have a surreal, even an absurdist two-dimensional feel that resembles a theatre set. Like all absurdism, there is an artful space between the underlying emotional intensity and the futility of ever trying to understand it. The gravelly Nighy is a master of under-statement, with a unique talent for giving shallow dialogue depth and humour. It’s all about contrasts: Alan’s obsession with a missing son and neglect of the son he still has; his fastidious Dymo labelling of everything as a substitute for control in his world; and his ability to make light of the heaviest emotions.
If you are not a Nighy fan or prefer action-based stories, you may find little to appreciate in this film. In place of a forward-moving narrative it offers a portrait of a dysfunctional family torn apart over guilt and the inability to emotionally connect. The film’s title is itself a parody of form over function, referring to the tailor’s rule for how jacket buttons should be fastened: the top always, the middle sometimes, the bottom never. With no substantive relationship to the film’s content, it’s a rule as good as any on how to live one’s life.
Director: Carl Hunter
Stars: Bill Nighy, Sam Riley