DRAMA; 1hr 41min
STARRING: Sidney Flanigan, Talia Ryder
City lights: Ryder (left) and Flanigan
Seventeen-year-old Pennsylvania high schooler Autumn Callahan (Flanigan), pregnant with no significant other in sight and no inclination to break the news to her supportive mother (Sharon Van Etten) and iffy stepfather (Ryan Eggold), deals with it by piercing her nose with a safety pin, failing to obtain a termination locally, then downing pills and walloping her stomach. Autumn is evidently a self-reliant girl. So, too, is her cousin and steadfast ally Skylar (Ryder), who gamely pockets a wad of cash from the takings at the grocery store where she and Autumn are part-time cashiers to fund Autumn’s abortion in the unknown terrain of New York City. Keeping their own counsel, the two take a wintry, cross-country coach trip to do what needs to be done — a protracted test of will that neither of them saw coming.
The beauty of writer-director Eliza Hittman’s fine-tuned approach to a perennially tough topic is its matter-of-fact refusal to sugar-coat or to rush. Hittman doesn’t need to lay it on thick, after all: Autumn’s situation is sufficiently desperate, and newcomer Flanigan’s buttoned-down performance such a perfect response to it, that cinematographer Hélène Louvart’s most impactful course is to practise the fine art of understatement by keeping close, docu-style, and allowing the dispiriting trip to speak for itself. The scene from which the film’s title is taken, when an increasingly distressed Autumn is asked at a planned-parenthood clinic for one-word responses to a series of multiple-choice questions regarding her sexual history, is a lesson in just how much the disenfranchised stand to lose.