Sometimes the top button, always the middle, never the bottom.
This mantra for knowing which buttons to do up on a suit jacket lent director Carl Hunter the title for his quirky new comedy-drama Sometimes Always Never.
The film features an exquisite Bill Nighy as Alan, a well-dressed suit tailor and Scrabble aficionado searching for his missing son Michael. Begrudgingly joining him on his journey is Alan’s other son Peter (Sam Riley), who is resentful and jealous of the attention Alan pays to the memory of Michael.
The tale follows the pair as they chase up clues that could lead to Michael and ultimately end up living together with the mystery hanging over their heads.
The sombre story is lightened with humour and fun. Alan’s never-ending desire to display his linguistic ability is highlighted as he hustles an opponent out of $200 in one of many games of Scrabble. The game is a recurring motif in the film, interesting yet insignificant until it is discovered Michael disappeared during a game and Alan starts to believe an anonymous online player of the game is his lost son.
Overall, the film doesn’t have much action but is a wonderful character study of a family dealing with loss. Particularly interesting are the far-reaching ramifications of Michaels disappearance. It is shown to have long-lasting impacts not only on his father and brother, but on his brother’s wife and son, this son’s friend and a couple Alan both befriends and angers. The tendrils of loss touch three generations of Michael’s family, some of whom are ensnared and all of whom are affected.
Perhaps to reflect the way in which Alan and his relatives have been unable to move on from the year Michael went missing, the houses, vehicles and lifestyle they occupy are given a mid-to-late-1900s feel, in spite of the film being set in the 2000s. Vivid blue painted walls, antique furniture, baby pink ice cream vans and simple meat-and-three-veg dinners combine with old-fashioned film techniques including backdrops for driving scenes, still images and an emphasis on filming through mirrors and natural framing. The effect is occasionally unsettling, as the characters play recently released video games and online Scrabble and use mobile phone apps in settings that don’t match these activities. It is, however, a powerful underlining of the way in which loss has caused the family to be left behind by the world.
Regardless of era, the characters Frank Cottrell Boyce (known for The Railway Man and Goodbye Christopher Robin) has written into the film are relatable and easily identifiable in society, and likely in viewers’ families.
Nighy is wonderful as the frustratingly funny and eager to teach grandfather; Riley skilfully represents the angry son longing for his father’s approval; Alice Lowe shines as Sue the caring and patient wife, mother and daughter-in-law. Louis Healy‘s role as Jack (the son) rounds out the set of fantastic performances that create a beautifully likeable yet complex family.
Sometimes Always Never is an enjoyable film that breaks from the typical mould. Humorous and emotional, it is endearing for the fact that, for the most part, the characters and the story are unremarkable. In some ways, it feels like you’ve spent 90 minutes with your own family, and learnt an extensive new vocabulary along the way.
Sometimes Always Never will be released in select cinemas on March 14.