This review was originally published as part of our London Film Festival coverage on 13/10/2019.
Loss and longing has ripped through three generations of the Mellor family. The setup is bleak, the visual style fanciful, but Sometimes Always Never pulls these disparate threads together into something totally relatable and empathetic. You could single out any element of the film for this – the perfect pacing, Frank Cottrell Boyce’s achingly heartfelt script – but credit is certainly due to the two men who bring this movie together.
With his directorial debut, Carl Hunter enters the fray with an absurdly well-defined style. Comparisons to Wes Anderson are well-deserved, as Sometimes Always Never plays with a similar kind of toybox imagination, albeit with a totally British sensibility. Hunter creates a diorama for us to explore, a dollhouse of dysfunction that is both hilarious and heart-wrenching. While there’s heaps of visual flair, helped in part by the easy charm of a Scrabble motif, Sometimes smartly knows when to pull back and let the cast take centre stage.
Every member of the Mellor family gives a thoughtful performance – not to mention Tim McInnerny, who steals some early scenes as an acerbic hotel guest – but the star of the show is of course Bill Nighy. Awkward father, tailor and Scrabble fiend, this is the kind of role Nighy was born to play, while still managing to surprise. He brings his trademark charm and physical energy, but there’s additional depth in his grief, at once rising above it and completely lost within it.
Sometimes Always Never isn’t charting new ground for British film, but it’s an excellent first feature from Carl Hunter. Balancing cringe with pathos is no mean feat, and here’s hoping there’s more to come – even if it’s just another hour of Bill Nighy playing Scrabble.
CAST: Bill Nighy, Jenny Agutter, Sam Riley, Tim McInnerny
DIRECTOR: Carl Hunter
WRITER: Frank Cottrell Boyce
SYNOPSIS: A detective fantasy/family drama where a love of words helps a father reconnect with a missing son.