Borrowing heavily from the aesthetics of the films of Wes Anderson, Carl Hunter’s debut film, Sometimes Always Never, shares a similar reverence to the American filmmaker for the culture and stylings of the ’60s — in case it wasn’t clear, in the film’s opening moments Alan compliments a group as looking “very Quadrophenia”. The film is awash with pleasant colour and set design to match the performances, particularly that of Bill Nighy — charming but with an undercurrent of grief and waywardness, a desire for familial connection.
The obsession with old style permeates the entire film, with fun throwbacks like very deliberately outdated backdrops used for driving sequences. But unfortunately it also appears shabby in ways that aren’t so intentional. In many scenes the quirky, colourful retro set design finds itself short-changed by harsh and stagey lighting.
The script is astute and funny.
The styling of the film seems to stand separately from the dialogue, which is realistic by comparison. Though there are fleeting delights to be found in the vibrant production design, abundance of symmetrical framing, and frequent use of tongue-in-cheek title cards, the look only serves to distract from it rather than reinforce any emotive power the film might have. A lot of the imagery is pretty in isolation but works against Frank Cottrell Boyce’s script, which is astute and funny, subverting the melodrama of its premise with a very wry, very English sense of humour and lending some edge to character arcs that could come off as sickly sweet.
The artificiality of it all places the characters at a remove, making it hard to focus in on what are fairly low-key performances. When Hunter deviates from this rigid style, the film feels a lot more organic.