Filmmaker, academic and former pop star Carl Hunter helms this peculiar melancholic comedy featuring Bill Nighy at his most Bill Nighy-y.
Often so self-consciously ‘quirky’ that you might occasionally want to scream, Sometimes Always Never is an odd, sad character piece that never really comes together, and feels fey and even twee.
Nighy is Alan, a tailor in the North of England who’s always been obsessed with Scrabble and pointless trivia, and for some reason Nighy adopts a curious thespian technique here where he perpetually seems to be either chewing gum or sucking his teeth. He’s estranged from his adult son Peter (Sam Riley), and has to secretly make an overnight road trip out of their forced car journey to formally identify a body.
Peter’s older brother has been missing for years and he holds out little hope of ever finding him but Alan obviously is still obsessively searching, which is apparently meant to explain a little of Nighy’s pinched performance. Early on they also meet a tense married couple, Margaret and Arthur, as played by no less than Jenny Agutter (best-known now for her regular role in TV’s Call The Midwife) and Tim McInnerny (much-loved long ago as Percy in Black Adder), and a stressful Scrabble game commences.
Alan later stays for a while at Peter’s home with his wife Sue (Alice Lowe) and son Jack (Louis Healy), and there’s a lot of detail (and padding) about computers and twitty wordplay, as Alan helps Jack impress the girl of the lad’s dreams (Ella-Grace Gregoire as Rachel). But the tension between father and son remains, and can’t be calmed by still more bloody Scrabble.
Evidently director Hunter fancies himself a sort of UK-relocated Wes Anderson, what with the stylised FX and show-off cinematographic tricks, but he often lands closer to Finnish filmmaker Aki Kaurismäki, who also adores muted colours, deadpan acting and one long, infuriating stillness after another.
And could this be Nighy’s most affected and actory turn onscreen ever? At times coming on like a weird hybrid of Jacques Tati’s Monsieur Hulot and Kramer from Seinfeld, he’s also the one who appears to explain (or maybe not) what the tailor’s term of the title actually means, but it makes just as much sense as anything else here.
Sometimes Always Never (PG) is in cinemas from March 14