What happens when mourning echoes through three generations? Sometimes Always Never, the feature narrative debut from British director Carl Hunter, explores the fragility and strength of a family missing a part of itself. Shot through with wry humor and filled with gorgeous British landscapes and creative animated sequences (mostly involving high-scoring Scrabble words), this understated, endearing film reveals that family — whether literally or as a word in Scrabble — is worth more than the sum of its parts.
Alan (Bill Nighy, playing up his brand of stoic sarcasm) lost a son, Michael, almost two decades before the narrative opens and has spent his life searching for him between bouts of working as a tailor. We meet him and his remaining son, the shy, humble Peter (Sam Riley, Maleficent) traveling to identify a body that may or may not be Michael.
Peter has a family of his own — sweet, bubbly wife Sue (Alice Low, Black Mirror: Bandersnatch) and moody, video game-addicted teenage son Jack (Louis Healy, British soap opera “Emmerdale”) — but he and his father have yet to heal the widening rift between them that opened when Michael walked out in the middle of a heated Scrabble game, during a fight over the word “zo.” (It is a valid word, by the way, and is defined as a cross between a yak and a cow.)
Peter’s and Michael’s mom died when they were young, and we gather early on that being raised by the opinionated and occasionally abrasive Alan wasn’t always a picnic. But Alan’s gruffness conceals a caring soul. When he moves in with Peter’s family for an extended stay, he sleeps in Jack’s room, where he takes over the computer (to play Scrabble, naturally). He also ends up sharing nuggets of family history — we learn, in a hilarious bunk bed split-screen shot, that Jack’s great-grandmother was a “part-time freelance coal miner” — and wardrobe tips, helping Jack win the girl of his dreams with a total makeover, complete with instructions on how to wear a suit jacket properly. (The key tip is also the film’s title.)
This quiet movie is propelled forward more by its characters than the sense of mystery it tries to build as to Michael’s whereabouts, but the ending is still a sweet and satisfying payoff. The rest of the film is filled with very funny moments, including when Alan, masquerading as an amateur Scrabble player, hustles another guest at an inn, plus charmingly imperfect family vignettes and beautiful, seemingly endless shots of undeveloped natural spaces, among them beaches, fields and forests where human figures stand small and lonely as they search for one another. It turns out they might be closer than they think.
Available to rent via grailmoviehouse.com