Hustlers come in all forms in film. Pool sharks, shady salesmen, and most recently, sophisticated strippers are a few that come to mind. Now we can add Scrabble wordsmiths to the list. Early on in Carl Hunter’s charming Sometimes Always Never, aging tailor and walking encyclopedia Alan (Bill Nighy) swindles an unsuspecting man out of 200 quid while playing the popular board game.
What he does not realize until halfway into the con is that the man and his wife are on a similar journey as Alan and his son Peter (Sam Riley). They have travelled to the remote town to see if the body that has turned up in the morgue is their missing loved one. Ever since Alan’s son Michael stormed out of the house one day, never to return, the two men have been holding out hope that he is still alive. As one would expect, Michael’s absence has caused Alan and Peter’s relationship to fray at the seams.
Relegated to being known as the son who stayed behind, Peter has had to live under the shadow of the “prodigal son.” He has also had to endure his father’s quirks and his relentless desire to continue the search for Michael. Peter finds it especially difficult to cope when Alan pops by unannounced and begins spending more time with Peter’s wife Sue (Alice Lowe) and son Jack (Louise Healy).
A tale about family and the prolonged grief that the unknown can cause, Sometimes Always Never walks a fine line. On one hand it is a comedy that uses the game of Scrabble as the connective rope that keeps this fractured father and son relationship from drifting too far apart. On the other, it is a meditation on the grieving process, one that ponders whether accepting the unknown is better closure than finding a painful answer to the question one seeks.
The two distinct tones make for a somewhat uneven experience at times. For example, the film’s comedic detours, take Jack’s bus stop crush on Rachel (Ellen-Grace Gregorie), or the quirky flashbacks to Peter’s youth, often takes much needed time away from Alan and Peter’s complicated relationship. By the time the two men inevitably confront their unspoken issues, the film rushes to fill in the blanks to ensure an uplifting, if predictable, ending.
While the humorous moments flow smoother than the dramatic beats, it is Bill Nighy’s wonderfully measured performance that helps to elevate the film above its conventional beats. Nighy effortless exudes a mixture of wit and pathos that makes Alan so compelling to watch. He wears the pain of loss like a heavy trench coat. A jacket that only gets hung up momentarily when around Peter’s family.
Sometimes Always Never may take its title from the rules a man must follow when buttoning up a suit jacket, but the rules of grief are not so clear. Sometimes it takes a game of Scrabble to help find the connections that make one whole again.
- Release Date: 10/4/2019