Sometimes Always Never Review
Sometimes board games bring families together, sometimes they tear them apart - and sometimes, as is the case in Carl Hunter’s slightly off-kilter but charmingly unpredictable film (written by Frank Cottrell Boyce), they do both.
Part detective film, part family drama, Sometimes Always Never is a quirky and unsentimental portrayal of a family coping with an uncertain grief after one son, Michael, storms out during a game of Scrabble and doesn’t come back. Starring Bill Nighy in fine form, the film follows the father as he searches for a connection to both the son he lost and the one which remains.
We first meet Alan on a windswept beach, a dark figure against the grey seascape that would seem straight out of the 60's were it not for the mobile phone in Alan’s hand. He is a sombre figure, his desperation to locate his son quiet but persistent, saturating his interactions with everyone - the immovable ice cream man, the pastel ladies sitting on scooters, and especially his other son, Peter (Sam Riley), who accompanies him on a grim journey related to Michael’s disappearance.
Unlike Alan, Peter carries the wounds of his brother’s disappearance right on the surface, and it’s not long before he’s comparing himself to the knock-offs from his childhood - Scribble instead of Scrabble, cover albums instead of originals, Peter instead of Michael - all second-best. It isn’t until later on that Alan confesses he also considers himself second-best, the father a poor substitute for the deceased mother.
The tenuousness and resilience of the father-son connection runs through the entire film (a well-timed release for Father’s Day), not just between Alan and Peter, but also Peter and his own son, Jack (Louis Healey). Jack is the stereotypical teenager, too engrossed in online video games to interact with his family, until Alan comes for an unexpected and extended stay and introduces Jack to Scrabble.
The game becomes a means of communication for both Jack and Alan, a tool to reach out while keeping a safe distance - while for Peter, the risk of the game is still too high. When Peter finally does come around to playing a game with his father at the film’s end, it’s a moment of mutual acceptance between the two intended to bring many of the narrative’s themes to a close.
Sometimes Always Never is at times touching and at times bewildering, but enjoyable throughout. Carl Hunter achieves a delicate balance between the sentimental and the sincere, the quirky and the bizarre, the known and the uncertain. The end result is a film that feels, much like Nighy, terribly relatable despite of (or perhaps because of) its oddities.
Sometimes Always Never opens in UK cinemas on June 14.