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Sometimes Always Never

Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 06/30/20 04:42:14

"Tough to steal scenes at the center of the movie."
3 stars (Average)

I love Bill Nighy even when he's in an awful movie, in large part because his screen persona is one seemingly built to steal scenes. It leads him to the sort of part that a good actor can give nuance in those brief moments, but there sometimes seems to be a limit to how far those parts can be stretched when placed at a movie's center. "Sometimes Always Never" is the result of stretching that sort of appeal just far enough to not break; it could do more and hit harder, but it seldom makes a genuinely wrong step.

Nighy plays Alan Mellor, a tailor who, as the film opens, is making a road trip with son Peter (Sam Riley) to see if a body that has recently been recovered is Peter's long-missing brother Michael. It is not, but any relief Alan finds from this is short-lived, and when his evening walk lands him on Peter's doorstep, he winds up staying the night, and many more after, sharing a bunkbed with grandson Jack (Louis Healy) and obsessively playing Scrabble online, coming to believe that his regular opponent is Michael and hoping to arrange a meeting.

Nighy being who he is on-screen - lean, stylish, and on a much better coolness curve than many of his contemporaries - is baked into the part in a way that's often interesting: One looks at him and his retro-cool roadster and impeccable attire, while Peter is never nearly so fancy, and combines it with Peter's talk of how he often had to settle for off-brands growing up ("Scrobble" with cardboard tiles), and it seems to say something about their relationship and Alan's priorities, especially when tied in with stories of the Prodigal Son, or how another couple that has lost their son (Tim McInnerny & Jenny Agutter) also has something about presenting a face at odds with what's behind the scenes in their backstory. It's somewhat standard material about families or people that present a good front maybe having something else behind it, but it's interesting to pick at, especially once the filmmakers get to peel back Alan's wit and carefully nurtured self-composure and show how this is eating at him.

The trouble is that the filmmakers often seem to be doing the same thing. Director Carl Hunter and his crew often seem to be doing the same sort of thing as Alan, covering their film in a stylish veneer that has a tendency to draw attention to the surface rather than bringing out what's underneath. The film is slathered in bold primary colors, meticulous compositions, and widescreen shots where one can't exactly miss the distortions introduced by the lenses Hunter and cinematographer Richard Stoddard choose. It's striking and usually deployed to clear purpose - emphasizing the weak connection between father and son as they talk in the car by cutting between shots of them at the opposite ends of the mostly-empty screen, heightening the sense of unreality as they venture outside their home territory looking for answers, that sort of thing - but it often comes across as trying to tell the story with production design and cinematography rather than letting those things amplify what's happening.

Much of the time, the cast just doesn't have enough to do. Nighy is enjoyably cool and sells the torment behind that equanimity well when given the chance, although it's often kept too much in reserve. Sam Riley is a fine balance as the son more likely to wear the heart on his sleeve, with Alice Lowe and Louis Hely rounding the group out nicely. The trouble is that there's always a sense that they could be doing more than they are, whether it's actually following Alan down his Scrabble-related rabbit hole or focusing on how all of this has affected Peter's relationship with his son. Most of the more-comedic diversions seem wedged in and out of place.

It is, seemingly inevitably, something of a match for the stylish grandfather at the center through much of it, nice to look at and able to be amusing or affecting for a bit, but maybe not working quite so well when the scenes he steals have to all fit together. The film doesn't fall apart, but it does wind up stretched quite thin at points.

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