“Sometimes Always Never” – Almost [MOVIE REVIEW]
by Neely Swanson
“Sometimes Always Never,” a valiant effort at making a Wes Anderson-type film, is just that – an effort. It would have been better if it didn’t look so deliberately copied from the Anderson playbook (“The Grand Budapest Hotel,” “Moonrise Kingdom,” “Royal Tenenbaums”), using his color palette and shaggy dog-type narrative.
Adopting the Anderson style, director Carl Hunter and writer Frank Cottrell Boyce want to immerse us in the lovably eccentric dysfunction of a father who has been on a quest to find a son who walked out years before over a Scrabble game. Yes, a Scrabble game.
Alan, a lover of words who thinks nothing of hustling a total stranger into a game for cash, is stylish, disconnected, and seemingly obtuse to the world of fair play. He has been called by the police of a neighboring city to identify a body that may or may not be his missing son Michael. He enlists his other son, Peter, to accompany him. Peter, whose anger at his clueless and neglectful father has been simmering just below the surface for years, reluctantly goes with him. As predicted by both, it was not Michael, but instead the son of a couple they met the night before, the target of his Scrabble hustle.
Life goes on. Peter’s life with preternaturally cheerful wife Sue and angsty teenage son young Peter is further upended, however, when Alan decides that he wants to bunk in (literally and figuratively) with them. Although his professional life seems ordered, he’s a tailor of stylish suits of which he is the best model, he brings an element of chaos everywhere he goes.
The tailor aspect is supposed to mean something, I’m sure. Its only resonance seems to be in dressing his grandson to be more attractive to a girl he fancies, and the possibility that appearance means more than substance. Otherwise, it’s just another headscratcher among many others.
Hunter’s stylistic palette is the most interesting aspect of the film with the oversaturated colors and the constant use of green screen backgrounds that become more distracting as the storytelling veers off track.
Telling tales of families in need of healing, torn apart by miscommunication and perceived favoritism do not get old if they are told well. Intriguing is the backdrop of word games, because it is words that provoked Michael into disappearing and it is words not spoken that have alienated Peter further. I wish I could say that Boyce had taken advantage of what he started but he and Hunter didn’t. Scrabble as a metaphor for communication or lack thereof would have been an excellent theme if it had been developed better.
Hunter has assembled a fine cast, only one of whom is given any depth of character on the page. Bill Nighy, as Alan, looks great but his minimalist style of acting, so effective in better movies, is just another cypher that doesn’t work. It is, however, an example of clothes making the man, but not much else.
Sam Riley as Peter is particularly effective and affecting. Given the only full dimensional character to play, he blossoms as the unhappy but ultimately mature and forgiving center. Alice Lowe as Sue is a fine actress but is given little to do other than mindlessly cheer for her boys.
Appearances by Jenny Agutter (“Call the Midwife”) and Tim McInnerny (“Blackadder”) as a couple who, like Alan, is awaiting word if the recently found body might be their son, are little more than cameos whose very real difficulties are explained away by a mere sentence or two.
While not a terrible film, it is a series of almosts, mostly in terms of script inadequacies and the director’s penchant for serving style over substance. I did take away a bit of interesting trivia, however. There is only one “Z” in Scrabble tiles, hence no Jazz. Take that as you will.
Opening Friday June 12 at the virtual Laemmle Royal and on July 10 on VOD.