‘Sometimes Always Never’ Movie Review: Sam Riley and Bill Nighy Play the Waiting Game

Sometimes Always Never is the Scrabble playing missing persons drama of the year. It may not be the best Scrabble playing mising persons drama ever, but it’s definitely in the top five. Obviously, there’s a limited audience for that sort of movie. Bill Nighy and Sam Riley do their best to put human faces on the drama, but it’s a pretty dreary slog for 90 minutes. 

Sam Riley and Bill Nighy in ‘Sometimes Always Never’

Sometimes Always Never begins with Alan (Nighy) and Peter Hellor (Riley) getting together for a meeting. Alan spends the night playing Scrabble with Arthur (Tim McInnerny) and Margaret (Jenny Agutter) and hustling him for 200 quid while they debate the qualifications of unusual words.

Sam Riley and Bill Nighy
L-R: Sam Riley and Bill Nighy | Blue Fox Entertainment

It turns out both couples are in town to identify a dead body which could be Alan’s missing son Michael or Margaret and Arthur’s. Obviously, it’s neither’s or the movie wouldn’t last 90 minutes. Alan spends the rest of the time with Jack and Jack’s family as they gradually hash out the drama that’s been eating them for many years. 

Sam Riley and Bill Nighy play Scrabble

Scrabble continues to be a motif for the Hellor family. Alan continues playing online Scrabble, and he plays a game with his grandson Jack (Louis Healy) and daughter-in-law, Sue (Alice Lowe). Alan tries to explain word strategy to Jack and questions the words Sue and Jack’s girlfriend Rachel (Ella-Grace Gregoire) play. He looks up everything from complex chemicals to two word greetings which is a little obsessive. 

Sam Riley and Bill Nighy in Sometimes Always Never
L-R: Sam Riley and Bill Nighyy | Blue Fox Entertainment

Alan believes Michael is playing online Scrabble with him based on words that Michael used to play. So he tries to find his online opponent for closure, which even Jack realizes is pretty far fetched.

The tone of waiting 

Sometimes Always Never creates a tone of waiting. This family has been waiting ever since Michael disappeared. Peter at least went on to have a family of his own, but you can only imagine how consuming it must be to lose a loved one and never have an answer. This movie creates that tone for 90 minutes.

Sometimes Always Never: Bill Nighy
Bill Nighy | Blue Fox Entertainment

Alan asks a lot of questions, tells a lot of stories no one wants to hear. He’s just waiting for something to happen. Peter is torn between humoring him and wanting to move on. Sometimes Always Never is full of inane banter that carries with it the heartbreak of unresolved issues. 

As charming as Nighy and Riley are, there’s no getting around the fact that this is just a simulation of a very uncomfortable existence. Perhaps families who are undergoing similar unresolved mysteries can take comfort in knowing they’re not alone. Otherwise, it is a bleak film with little reward for enduring it. 

Sometimes odd moments that rarely work and are never consistent

The film bears some other glaring flaws too. Driving scenes look oddly fake, sort of like old timey driving shots but with more realistic backgrounds. Driving scenes normally film in front of a green screen now and they still look fake but the modern kind of fake. These are caught between the old “sitting in front of a background screen” days and now. You can still tell they’re not on the road. 

Bill Nighy: Sometimes Always Never
Bill Nighy | Blue Fox Entertainment

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An hour into the movie, Sometimes Always Never cuts to a brief piece of animation. It hasn’t established any sort of surreal sensibility previously, so that’s a weird choice.

Again, Riley and Nighy fans may be curious to see what they can do with material like this. At only 90 minutes it’s not too much of an investment, but it seems they’re stuck in a movie that missed the mark. Sometimes Always Never is available at virtual cinemas June 12 and VOD July 10.