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Bill Nighy Gets A Low-Key Showcase With “Sometimes Always Never”

There are few more enjoyable actors to watch than Bill Nighy. He always just seems to be having a good time, mellow and easy-going. It’s rare that a filmmaker gives him a starring role, but he has close to one here in Sometimes Always Never, a film that’s been on the festival circuit for almost two years. That might suggest a problematic flick, but that’s not the case. Though the movie ultimately falls just shy of being recommendation worthy for me, it’s still a pleasant yet melancholic dramedy, with Nighy at the center. He’s not let loose like he usually is when at his best, like in Richard Curtis penned roles, but this is one of his fuller performances to date.

The film is a dramedy, centered on Alan (Nighy), a tailor and expert Scrabble player. For years, Alan has been searching for his missing eldest son Michael, who stormed out one night over a contentious game of Scrabble (well, a low-rent Scrabble knock-off the family would play). The ensuing years have taken a toll on his family, including the relationship he has with Peter (Sam Riley), his youngest son, along with his offspring. When a body turns up that needs to be identified, it might be Michael’s, and that spurs on Alan and Peter to investigate. Perhaps this will help Alan move on? Complicating things is the mysterious online Scrabble game he’s playing with an ace player, especially when there’s some suspicion that it could also be Michael, alive and well. Ultimately, as you might expect, the answers prove less important than the family mending. Carl Hunter directs a screenplay by Frank Cottrell Boyce, with cinematography from Richard Stoddard. Edwyn Collins and Sean Read handle music. Rounding out the cast are the likes of Jenny Agutter, Ella-Grace Gregoire, Louis Healy, Alice Lowe, Tim McInnerny, and Alexei Sayle.

Bill Nighy is great here, although unable to fully carry the project on his own. Nighy’s Alan is a quietly determined fellow, full of nuance and subtlety, even when you don’t initially see it. The longer the movie progresses, the more impressed you are by him. Nighy truly is top notch here. Unfortunately, Carl Hunter and Frank Cottrell Boyce don’t surround him with enough. The rest of the cast is wasted, especially the talented Sam Riley, while the quirkiness of the filmmaking never papers that over. Nighy is actually so good, you notice the disparity, more than you might have otherwise.

Sometimes Always Never mainly struggles with investing you in its characters as much as you’d have hoped for, given the lead’s low-level charm. The film builds to a simple and relatively satisfying conclusion, but aside from Nighy’s Alan, no one really grabs your attention. Hunter’s direction and Boyce’s writing just can’t pull that trick off. They do manage to make a game of Scrabble somewhat intriguing to watch play out, and that’s something, but the highs and lows here are further apart than you’d like. In fact, the highs make the lows stand out more, ultimately preventing this one from being worthy of a recommendation.

Now out in the world, Sometimes Always Never will mainly appeal to those of you out there who really dig on Bill Nighy. The more you like him, the more you’ll appreciate his more center stage presence here. You might miss some of his more outwardly comedic quirks, but this is a rather well rounded turn. Even when the movie itself falls short, Nighy does not. He’s a saving grace. Make of that what you will…

Sometimes Always Never is available to watch now.

(Photos courtesy of Blue Fox Entertainment)

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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