Cert 15 Stars 4
Unlike any other cinematic teenage road trip I’ve ever seen, this raw, honest and unflinching coming-of-age US drama is all the more devastating for skilfully combining a reflective and sombre tone with a steely-eyed look at its subject matter.
Sidney Flanigan gives a remarkably nuanced and sensitive performance as Autumn, a pale and ordinary working class 17 year old high schooler and part time supermarket worker, who’s response to the tests and scans confirming her pregnancy is to self-pierce her own nose, which is more an act of self harm than fashion statement.
As we’re we’re left to guess the identity of the father, Autumn travels from rural Pennsylvania to New York to secure an abortion for an unwanted pregnancy, and is accompanied only by her supportive and similarly aged cousin Skylar, played by the impressively impassive Talia Ryder.
They struggle to negotiate a series of bureaucratic hurdles, medical tests, legal obstacles, social pressures and financial difficulties.
And among the many scenes of desperate heartbreak, the most agonising is an interview where Autumn endures a series of sexually intrusive questions, the possible answers to which form the film’s title.
The script by director Eliza Hittman maintains compassion and respect for Autumn but doesn’t bother trying to justify her behaviour with grand speeches, though it does condemn those who try to stall, abuse and manipulate her, and generally treats its male characters with deserved disdain.
Having established the divide between idealised romantic love and the realities of sex with consummate economy in a deft opening sequence, Hittman fully immerses us in Autumn’s world by using a hand held camera which frequently captures the actress in emotionally revealing close up.
A refusal to shy away from the procedures involved and bleak ordinariness of Autumn’s world brings harrowing authenticity and huge emotional power, and while this a deeply unsettling watch, the girls’ courage and solidarity demand our sympathy.