Synopsis: A stylish tailor who has spent years searching tirelessly for his missing son must repair the relationship with his youngest son while solving a mystery of an online Scrabble player so he can finally move on and reunite his family.
Stars: Bill Nighy, Sam Riley, Alice Lowe, Jenny Agutter, Tim McInnerny
Director: Carl Hunter
Running Length: 91 Minutes
TMMM Score: (5/10)
Review: As much as the next person, I’ve been spending the last few months staring out my living room window waiting for the chance to escape. This has lead to a number of daydreaming flights of fancy that are often eventually nicely satisfied by a healthy dose of television and theatrical options that lets me do my travelling virtually while I wait for another new adventure. What’s really caught my attention are the quirky and idiosyncratic, think the boundless creativity of Wes Anderson or the bold off-the-wall offerings of Tina Fey. This is programming that helps you step out of your daily grind and takes you someplace else while still engaging you with storytelling.
It’s hard to know where to put Sometimes Always Never because it doesn’t quite fit anywhere specific. Part family drama and part droll comedy, it never fully commits to anything for too long and that winds up leaving the viewer unable to acquaint themselves with the characters. Writer Frank Cottrell Boyce has supplied the screenplay for movies in multiple genres and that journeyman pen could be seen as a hindrance in nailing down any kind of tone director Carl Hunter was going for. It’s either that or Hunter was too preoccupied with the overly cinematic production design to realize the plot was coming up short.
The plot? It’s a doozy and I’m still not quite sure I totally understood what was going on. From what I could gather, Bill Nighy (Pokémon Detective Pikachu) plays widower Alan that has been looking for his missing adult son ever since he walked out in the middle of a heated game of Scrabble. (And I thought my Hungry Hungry Hippos meltdown of 1987 was bad.) His other son Peter (Sam Riley, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil) watches over his dad, partly to make sure he is safe and partly because he’s known to be a bit of a hustler – something we see early on when he cons a grieving couple (Jenny Agutter, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, & Tim McInnerny) out of some cash.
The bulk of the film takes place when Alan comes to stay with Peter and his wife Sue (Alice Lowe) as he’s tracking down another lead on his vanished son. He thinks he has a lead in an online Scrabble player and as much as Peter discourages Alan from getting his hopes up, it’s a small lifeline after a long stretch of doubt. There’s a half-hearted attempt to introduce a parallel set of lessons to be learned between Peter and his own son but Boyce’s script and the 91-minute run time don’t allow for much expansion of those ideas. What’s there is Nighy trying to hold the movie up on his spindly shoulders and doing the best he can with little support from Riley but nice performances from Lowe and Agutter.
The frustrating thing about a film like Sometimes Always Never is that you can see it struggle to be its own thing and sacrifice valuable assets along the way. While it’s plot lacks the meat that would make this a filling meal, it does have its moments of looking like a nice feast. Hunter has a nice eye for the visual at times, but then he follows it up with sequences shot on cheap looking sets or traveling shots deliberately made to look homemade. As much as he wants his film to feel like Wes Anderson, its distinct imbalance keeps it from finding a captivating foothold.