In his debut feature, director Carl Hunter has embraced a very British vibe with this low-key dramedy about a missing person, a mourning father, and, umm, Scrabble. And what better person to play its mainstay — an unconventional scrabble-obsessed tailor — than the inimitable Bill Nighy. Like him or not (and for the record, I like him), he plays these kinds of roles with aplomb.
Alan (Nighy) pines for his missing son who walked out after a heated game of Scrabble, mysteriously never to be seen again. Although the film doesn't clarify when the disappearance occurred, it's still fresh enough for Alan to clutch on to unrealistic hopes of his return — much to the chagrin of his other son Peter (Sam Riley from Control) who wishes he'd just move on with his life. However, fresh evidence leads to a road trip that forces the two to reflect on their own relationship.
Although the "prodigal son" trope is a well-worn one, it does provide this tale with a solid sounding-board from which to launch its character study. And as the father/son dynamics play out, the two find themselves in some very comical situations— most notably, Alan, who hustles another grieving dad (wonderfully played by Tim McInnerny) out of 200 pounds over a game of (yes) Scrabble.
The camera-work is wall-hangingly beautiful, each shot being carefully framed with a lush palette that sings loudly the film's whimsical sensibilities. However, cinematographer Richard Stoddard might've pushed the boat out too far with a style that doesn't quite match the substance. Pretty to look at, yes, but Frank Cottrell Boyce's comparatively pallid screenplay is worse off for the distraction. That said, the usually sombre Boyce, who penned the surprisingly dark AA Milne biopic, Goodbye Christopher Robin, has thankfully lightened up and laced this film with some fairly quick-witted comedy—it's a perfect fit for Nighy whose dry delivery seems to delight in soaking up Boyce's more gloomy tendencies.
Sometimes Always Never is a quintessentially British film; a damp slice of seaside village life, often ponderous and offbeat (perhaps to a fault, depending on your tolerance) but curiously endearing.
Bill Nighy, Sam Riley, Alice Lowe
PG (Sexual references)
Plays "whimsy" on a triple word score.