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Many of my traditional end-of-the-year film posts have been pushed to February for reasons I detailed in my Top 10 list, but I’m publishing this fun annual feature at its usual time. You may notice that I don’t have dialogue from Emma. or Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom or One Night in Miami on this list. That’s because their best stretches of writing are too close to the source material. It’s the same reason I never include Shakespeare films in this list. However, I have included a couple of literary adaptations that we’ll address. As always, I’ve taken the dialogue from the finished film and not from scripts. The stage directions are mine.

Michael Angelo Covino’s The Climb has the funniest opening shot of 2020’s movies, with two best friends biking up a mountain road in France. No wonder this scene featured so prominently in the movie’s trailer, for it sets the tone and the relationship dynamic perfectly.

KYLE: Mike, I’m getting married. How awesome is that?
MIKEY: Awesome.
KYLE: She’s the best. She’s like the best person ever. And I don’t have to change to be with her, y’know? Remember how Marisa made me get that Rob Thomas haircut and Tina made me be an atheist for a year?
MIKEY: Yeah, I remember that.
KYLE: Ava isn’t like that. She loves me for who I am, and I love her for who she is. I can’t wait to spend the rest of my life with her.
MIKEY: Kyle, I slept with Ava.
KYLE: What? What do you mean, “slept”?
MIKEY: Like we slept, sexually slept together.
(Kyle makes a 360-degree turn with his bike, then starts pedaling after Mikey.)
KYLE: Oh my God, I’m gonna fuckin’ kill you. I’m gonna fucking kill you! When? When did you sleep together?
MIKEY: I don’t know the exact dates.
KYLE: Dates?
MIKEY: Dude, slow down. You should pace yourself.
KYLE (gasping for breath): How long?
MIKEY: Like a quarter mile.
KYLE: No, how long has this been going on? When did it start?
MIKEY: When she moved to New York.
KYLE: Three years ago! This whole fucking time?
MIKEY: No! No, not the whole time, y’know? It was before you started dating.
KYLE: If I catch you, I’m gonna kill you.
MIKEY: I know. That’s why I waited for the hill.

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Radha Blank’s The 40-Year-Old-Version is about a struggling playwright who has the same name as the filmmaker and star. This early scene takes place at a theater industry cocktail party where her agent, Archie, urges her to cozy up to a wealthy white producer. I dare say any Black artist who has had to deal with clueless rich white people who might potentially fund their art will find this all too familiar.

JAY (to partygoers): I’m not afraid of controversy. Our all-female production of 12 Angry Men? My idea! But a live cow onstage? I’m sorry, but I draw the line at fresh cow shit. (seeing her) Radha! Excuse me, ladies. Radha, hey!
RADHA: How are you?
JAY: Just puckering up to the patrons, as usual. How are you?
RADHA: Good.
JAY: Archie tells me you’re teaching.
RADHA: I’ve been teaching for a while now.
JAY: The theater misses you.
RADHA: Does it? Has it been looking for me? ’Cause I’ve been here.
JAY: Archie insisted that I read your play.
RADHA: Awesome. Thank you.
JAY: It’s —
RADHA: Yes?
JAY: Why don’t you tell me about it in your own words?
RADHA: Okay. Um, Harlem Ave. is about a young Black man who inherits a grocery store from his dead mom and pop, and how he struggles to keep the business afloat with the help of his lovely wife, who’s an activist.
JAY: Mmm. That’s it?
RADHA: No, no, no, no. It’s about gentrification, and how this young couple struggles to — you didn’t like it.
JAY: The idea is powerful.
RADHA: But?
JAY: It rang a little inauthentic.
RADHA: Okay. Well, thank you for that note. I appreciate it.
JAY (remonstrating): But, but, but, but, but there’s something there.
RADHA: Okay.
JAY: I just wish you hadn’t shied away from darkness. I mean, if you’re gonna call it Harlem Ave., you gotta give me Harlem Ave.
RADHA: I should write in a teen mother shooting up in an alley.
JAY (laughing): No! No, no, no, no, no, you’re missing my point! I’m talking about gentrification. A Black Harlem shifting under a white hipster land grab. But your play never goes there. I asked myself, “Did a Black person really write this?”
(Radha casts an accusing glance back at Archie.)
JAY: No, no, look, look, sweetheart, there’s definitely a voice under all those words. But the writing needs work. The good news is, I still need a writer for my Harriet Tubman musical.
RADHA (nodding her head, fake smiling): Wow! Okay! That’s, that’s great. That’s great.
(She starts to walk away. Jay waves hello to someone in the crowd. Radha turns back, puts her hands around Jay’s neck, and wrestles him to the ground.)
ARCHIE: Fuck.

I never had a chance to read the Susan Scarf Merrell novel that Shirley is based on, so if this exchange is word-for-word from the book, someone let me know and I’ll be really embarrassed. Sarah Gubbins wrote the script that depicts Stanley Edgar Hyman and Shirley Jackson as a couple of appalling hosts for the young couple Fred and Rose as they sit down to a dinner that Rose has prepared. The dialogue is so sharp here, even the real-life Hyman and Jackson might have approved.

STANLEY (applauding): Oooh, gorgeous lamb flesh!
ROSE (setting down the platter and taking a seat): Oh, it was nothing.
STANLEY (to Fred): Come on, my boy, shed a layer. We aren’t formal in this house. I’ve often thought about participating in the Native American ritual of the sweat lodge.
SHIRLEY: Often?
STANLEY (pouring wine for everyone): Why yes, dear. Then I learned that you have to crawl through a dirt tunnel under the ground, (grinding against Rose) sit naked buttocks to naked buttocks with a dozen other men, while some shaman stokes a smoky fire maintaining 100-degree heat and peddles some noxious root tea that inspires some hallucinations.
SHIRLEY (abruptly, to Rose): So when’s the baby due?
FRED: The baby?
SHIRLEY (feigning regret): Oops, was it supposed to be a surprise? You should have told me that, dear. (to Fred) Well, I hope it’s yours.
ROSE (shocked): Of course it’s his.
FRED (to Shirley): February. (to Rose) Right, darling?
ROSE: I’d really rather discuss something else, if you don’t mind.
SHIRLEY: February? Ha! Did you tell him you were knocked up before the wedding?
STANLEY: I fear my love’s stories of populations might leave the table without an appetite. (indicating Shirley) But that one does have a sixth sense about babies. Calls it, boy or girl, she’s never wrong. Is poor Freddie here going to be disappointed?
(The phone starts ringing. No one moves to answer it.)
FRED: Okay, should I?
SHIRLEY: Stay put. (to Stanley) You promised to take care of that.
STANLEY: As you wish, dear.
(The phone stops ringing.)
SHIRLEY: So, Rose, you were telling us about your shotgun wedding.
ROSE (putting down her napkin and leaving the table): Excuse me.
FRED (abashed, also leaving): I should see if she’s all right.
STANLEY: I feel a bit like we’re in the Scottish Play. (holding up a butter knife) I, the thane of Cawdor, have a murderous prophecy on my head. (approaching her) And you, Lady M, on the verge of madness. What will happen?
(He grasps the knife like a weapon above her head, then stabs it into the bowl of mashed potatoes, scooping up a bit. He takes it back to his seat.)
SHIRLEY: I have a title, Hangsaman. It’s about that girl. The missing one.
STANLEY: The Welden girl?
SHIRLEY: What do you think?
STANLEY: Well, you haven’t said much.
SHIRLEY: Well, it’s just an idea. I could try something else —
STANLEY (cutting her off): Disappearing college girl, sounds a bit trite and trashy, but you can give it a go. I’ll read, of course, before you wade too far in.
SHIRLEY: It’s going to take some time.
STANLEY: Give it a couple of days.
SHIRLEY: It’s a novel.
STANLEY: Oh no, dear. You’re just not up to it.
SHIRLEY: You’re wrong.
STANLEY: Darling, you haven’t been out of the house in two months. You’re barely able to put on a pair of stockings. Ease back, that’s all I’m saying.
SHIRLEY: If that phone rings one more time during dinner, Stanley, so help me, I’m going to take care of it myself.
STANLEY: I’m well within the bounds of our agreement.
SHIRLEY: Our agreement didn’t include sluts interrupting my dinner.
STANLEY: I will talk to her and tell you everything, as I always do.
SHIRLEY: You’re really scraping the barrel these days.
(Stanley hits the table with his fist. He gets up, puts on a jazz record, smiles, and leaves the house.)

Really deserving of more play this year was Buffaloed, with a script by Brian Sacca. This scene from the drama has Buffalo native Peg receive a phone call from a debt collector over debts she has accumulated during her time in prison. A self-taught student of finance and sales, she turns the tables on this man as a prelude to discovering what a racket debt collection is.

SAL: This is Sal Scarpetta calling for one Peg Dahl about your $29,243 debt.
PEG: Right, what about it?
SAL: Oh shit, you’re still there? Well, uh, I’m willin’ to make a deal.
PEG: Okay, and?
SAL: If you’re willin’ to pay right now, I’ll discount it to $5,000.
PEG: Oh, that was it? Very cool. Sal, that was the worst sales pitch I’ve ever heard.
SAL: I ain’t in sales.
PEG (laughing): What do you mean, you’re not in sales? Your job is to convince me to give you my money. That’s sales! And the best salesman is an informed listener.
SAL: Did you do a learning annex or somethin’?
PEG: You’re not listening. As a debt collector, you’re not selling a product, right? You’re selling a feeling. You’re selling relief. Relief from the weight of failure, so here is your protocol. Learn from the client, use the new information to gain trust, then present relief, idiot!
SAL: Okay, so since you know so much, how do I sell relief?
PEG: You work in a noisy office, probably a bullpen. Bullpens create competition amongst employees, therefore you probably get paid on commission. By the desperation in your voice, I can tell that you need a win or you may lose your job.
SAL (alarmed): You can hear that?
PEG (serious): Be grateful. At least you have a job. I’m broke. Scrubbing toilets.
SAL: Yeah, my job ain’t bad, but I have to work Sundays, so I miss Bills games.
PEG: Bills games? (laughing) You’re in Buffalo!
SAL: Yeah, lotta agencies are. We collect from everywhere, especially Florida, but most of us are in Buffalo.
PEG: Interesting, Sal! Sal, okay. You like Anchor Bar or Duff’s?
SAL: Duff’s, of course.
PEG: Well, now I definitely want to help you because you’re a Buffalonian like me. I can get you that win. I can. You just gotta do one simple thing for me: Erase the line that reads “Peg Dahl, $29,243.” Let’s help each other out, come on! You and me, Sal. Al, Sal, Sal, Al, is it Al or Sal?
SAL: Whoa, I almost considered erasing your shit.
PEG: Well, why don’t you just do it? I gave you the protocol. Kill the debt, please.
SAL: Sorry, I can’t give up a $500 rip.
PEG: You take a 10 percent commission?
SAL: Yeah.
PEG: At the beginning of this call, you offered me a $25,000 discount on a $30,000 debt, so you lost $2,500 before I even picked up?
SAL: I’m sorry, what did you just say?
PEG’S VOICEOVER: They say there are moments in life that you never forget: your wedding day, the birth of a kid. For me, it was the day Sal Scarpetta talked too damn much.
PEG: Where are your offices?

Clea DuVall and Mary Holland wrote the series of awkward family scenes that is Happiest Season. This family dinner at a restaurant is already going badly for Harper after her parents Ted and Tipper invite her ex-boyfriend Connor there without telling her. When she and Abby retreat to the ladies’ room to talk over this development, Harper promises there will be no more surprises. Of course, they step out of the restroom and are immediately met by Harper’s ex-girlfriend Riley. As always, Harper’s sister Jane is making funny comments in her own world off to the side.

HARPER: Riley!
RILEY: Harper.
ABBY (getting Harper’s attention): Uh —
HARPER: Sorry, um. Riley, this is Abby. Abby is my —
ABBY (stumbling): Orphan. Roommate. We, I am an orphan, but we live together. As friends. Like acquaintances.
HARPER (to Abby, under her breath): Oh, please stop.
RILEY: Nice to meet you. So, I’m just gonna sneak on by you guys?
HARPER: Oh God, sorry.
(Abby and Harper make way as Riley goes into the ladies’ room.)
ABBY: Was that the Riley?
HARPER: Okay, that one really wasn’t my fault.
ABBY: Who knows, baby? Maybe one of your other exes will bring out dessert. Oh my God!
(They return to the table.)
TIPPER (pointing across the dining room): Harper, did you see the Bennetts are here?
HARPER (looking over): Yeah, we just ran into Riley.
TED: Did you hear she’s doing her residency at Johns Hopkins?
JANE (to herself): I should have her look at my mole.
HARPER (to Ted): No, um, I hadn’t heard that.
TED: It’s very impressive. Her parents must be proud. And relieved.
TIPPER: I know. That lifestyle choice!
TED: Such a shame.
CONNOR: Abby, what do you do?
ABBY: Oh, I’m working on my Ph.D. in art history at Carnegie Mellon. My parents were professors there, so I’m following in their footsteps.
TED: You know, before law school, I took all the money I had and went to Paris for a month. Spent every day in museums. That experience made me the man I am today.
ABBY: That must have been incredible. What a dream.
TED: Boy, Carnegie Mellon. You could teach me a thing or two, huh?
JANE: I think it’s getting bigger.
TED: Jane, stay at the table.

What would this list be without an entry from Aaron Sorkin? His historical drama The Trial of the Chicago 7 has flaws that are familiar from his other movies, but this exchange among the defendants that’s mostly between Tom Hayden and Abbie Hoffman stands out. Sorkin was a liberal in the 1960s and mostly stood for Hayden’s respectability politics and pragmatism. In a movie made with the benefit of decades of hindsight, he puts forth Hayden’s view of Abbie’s hippie liberationist wing of the left but has Abbie defend himself and the counterculture in more than capable terms. Left-wingers today are still arguing about some of this stuff today. The sidebar about Jack and the Beanstalk is echt Sorkin, too.

JERRY: Is Bill talking to you about taking the stand? ‘Cause some of the press guys are saying Bill’s been talking to you about taking the stand.
TOM: Yeah, he’s been talking to me about it.
JERRY: He thinks you might get the crowd worked up with a position paper?
TOM: Maybe he thinks I won’t try to get the crowd worked up at all. Maybe he thinks there are jurors who’ve relied on the safety of the police and are put off when someone calls them pigs, or maybe he just wants a witness who dresses like a grown man.
JERRY: The cops in this city in the summer of 1968 were pigs.
TOM: I wonder how many of them had kids in Vietnam.
JERRY (to Abbie): He’s gonna take the stand, not you? And we’re okay with that? (pause) Abbie?
ABBIE (to Tom): What did you mean when you said the last thing I want is to end the war?
TOM: What?
ABBIE: Centuries ago, when the trial started, you said, “Why did I come to Chicago?” and I said, “To end the war,” and you turned to everyone and said, “The last thing he wants is to end the war.” What did you mean by that?
TOM: I meant you’re making the most of your close-up.
ABBIE: Yeah?
TOM: No more war, no more Abbie Hoffman.
ABBIE: What’s your problem with me, Hayden?
TOM: I really wish people would stop asking me that.
RENNIE: Dave wouldn’t want us to —
ABBIE (cutting him off): That’s right. One time.
TOM: All right. My problem is that for the next 50 years, when people think of progressive politics, they’re gonna think of you. They’re gonna think of you and your idiot followers passing out daisies to soldiers and trying to levitate the Pentagon. So they’re not gonna think of equality or justice. They’re not gonna think of education or poverty or progress, they’re gonna think of a bunch of stoned, lost, disrespectful, foul-mouthed, lawless losers, and so we’ll lose elections.
ABBIE: All because of me.
TOM: Yeah.
ABBIE: Winning elections, that’s the first thing on your wish list? Equality, justice, education, poverty, progress, they’re second?
TOM: If you don’t win elections, it doesn’t matter what’s second. It is astonishing to me that someone has to explain that to you.
RENNIE: Okay, so Jerry was talking about starting —
ABBIE (cutting him off again): We don’t have any money.
TOM: I’m sorry, what?
ABBIE: We don’t have any money. So I stage stunts, and cameras come, and microphones come, and it’s astonishing that someone has to explain that to you.
TOM: You’re trading a cow for magic beans.
JERRY: That ended up working.
TOM: What?
JERRY: The magic beans. There was a giant up there. I can’t remember what happened after that. The little boy may have gotten eaten.
JOHN: The giant turned out to be nice.
JERRY: You sure?
JOHN: No.
LEE: It’s hard to believe the seven of us weren’t able to end a war.
ABBIE (to Tom): Let me ask you something.
RENNIE: I think you guys should just shake hands.
ABBIE: Think Chicago would have gone differently if Kennedy got the nomination?
TOM: Do I? Yes, Abbie, I do. I think the Irish guys would have sat down with Daley, and yes.
ABBIE: I think so, too.
TOM: Yeah?
ABBIE: That’s why I was wondering, weren’t you just a little bit happy when the bullet ripped through his head? No Chicago, no Tom Hayden.
TOM (grabbing his lapels): I was one of his pallbearers, you fucking animal!
ABBIE (laughing): That’s right! We’re not going to jail because of what we did, we’re going to jail because of who we are! Think about that the next time you shrug off cultural revolution.
(Abbie shoves him away.)

Emerald Fennell’s mordant wit in Promising Young Woman is one quality that makes that revenge movie enjoyable instead of sordid. A sample of that is in this scene when her protagonist Cassie tells her coffee-shop boss Gail about receiving the unsubtle gift of a suitcase from her parents on her 30th birthday. They’re interrupted by Ryan, Cassie’s former med-school classmate who happened to walk into the shop and is interested in dating her.

GAIL: Wow.
CASSIE: Yeah.
GAIL: That’s direct.
CASSIE: Real kick in the cunt.
GAIL: Is it a nice suitcase, at least?
CASSIE: Oh, yeah. It’s definitely the fanciest “get the fuck out of our house” metaphor I’ve received so far.
GAIL: So why don’t you?
CASSIE: What?
GAIL: Get the fuck out of their house. Just, I don’t know, go on Zillow or Single White Female some girl. Get a basement room in some weird guy’s house, anything.
CASSIE: Can’t afford it, Gail. Not on what you pay me. Not even a weird guy’s basement.
GAIL: So take this other job, then. Take any job.
CASSIE: Are you firing me?
GAIL: Maybe I should.
CASSIE: Look, you’re making the assumption that I want any of it. If I wanted a boyfriend and a yoga class and a house and kids and a job my mom could brag about, I’d’a done it. It’d take me 10 minutes. I don’t want it. I don’t want it.
GAIL: But you must want something.
(Ryan enters the shop.)
RYAN (to Cassie): Hey.
CASSIE: Oh, you. Hi.
RYAN: One coffee, hold the spit. (to Gail) She spat in my coffee the last time. I’m back because, um, I think you gave me a fake number the other day.
CASSIE: Doesn’t sound like me.
RYAN: I spent a few hours composing a, like, very witty, very romantic text, and then I sent that text to an oil rig worker called Red.
CASSIE: Was he into it?
RYAN: Surprisingly into it. It was, like, immediately inappropriate, but it’s not gonna work out ’cause of the oil rig. So I thought I’d try you again.
GAIL: I just heard a phone ring in the back.
CASSIE: No, you didn’t.
GAIL: I most definitely heard a phone ring in the back.
(She leaves.)
CASSIE: She has to take a few imaginary calls a day.
RYAN: Look, if you’re not into this, totally get it.
CASSIE: I’m not really looking to date anyone at the moment.
RYAN: Right, yeah. Me neither. Would you be interested in a friendship and I’m secretly pining for you the whole time? (pause) Dating’s horrible, everyone’s horrible. I went on a date last month with a woman who wanted to euthanize the homeless.
CASSIE: You went on a date with my mom?

Improving on Charles Dickens’ writing might seem like a tall order, but it isn’t so much when you recall how insipid many of his heroines are. In The Personal History of David Copperfield, Armando Iannucci not only writes successfully in Dickens’ vein, he also makes the hopelessly humdrum Dora Spenlow far more interesting by making her aware that she’s a character in a drama. Dickens has a legitimate claim to being the greatest novelist ever in the English language, but he wasn’t clever like this.

HEEP: Mr. Copperfield and Miss Wickfield. Two fields. Neither lying fallow, I hope.
AGNES: Clever!
DAVID (shaking his head): Tiresome.
AGNES: Yes, I was being polite.
DAVID: Busy, Uriah?
HEEP: Mr. Heep is very busy doing the work of two men, sadly.
AGNES: Well, Mr. Heep, we are here to talk to you about Miss Trotwood’s investments.
(Miss Trotwood, Mr. Dick, and Mr. Wickfield enter the office.)
HEEP: More people! This is like a party.
WICKFIELD: This doesn’t feel like a party.
HEEP: Shall I make us a bowl of punch? We need a lemon. Miss Trotwood, you look like you’re sucking one.
DICK (needing to be restrained): Insolent fellow!
TROTWOOD: Mr. Heep, you’ve stolen my money and you’ve embezzled funds from this firm.
HEEP: A slander! Anyone else here want to defame me?
(Mr. Micawber and Miss Peggotty also enter.)
MICAWBER: I do!
PEGGOTTY: And me!
MICAWBER (to Heep): I put it to you that for your own pecuniary aggrandizement, you’ve falsified documents in order to mystify an individual whom I will designate in code as Mr. W.
HEEP: Wickfield?
MICAWBER (looking at Wickfield): Maybe.
HEEP: Prove it!
AGNES: To prove it, we would need access to certain documents.
DAVID (faking confusion): But Agnes, wherever might we find such documents?
AGNES: Oh, I believe they used to be in that bureau.
HEEP (opening a drawer and finding it empty): All you’ve done is prove you’re thieves. You’ve stolen my documents.
DAVID: Stole? Can Mr. Wickfield’s daughter not tidy up her father’s papers?
HEEP: Those documents were in a locked drawer.
AGNES: I’m a very enthusiastic tidier.
PEGGOTTY (to Heep, indicating Miss Trotwood): You stole this lady’s house, you stupid little turnip!
DAVID (producing two documents): Mr. Dick, what do you think?
DICK (comparing the papers): Swans.
TROTWOOD: Swans?
PEGGOTTY: Where?
WICKFIELD: Swans?
DAVID: Swans.
DICK: I’ve been studying these, and when Mr. Wickfield signs, the “w” looks like a swan, but when Mr. Heep mimics his signature, his “w” looks like an upturned hip bath. You see?
WICKFIELD (to Heep): You forged my signature! You’re the source of this calamity, Heep! A thousand curses upon you! I take it back, a thousand and four!
HEEP: Agnes, if you have any love for your babbling father, you’ll leave this gang and marry me. I will ruin him otherwise.
AGNES: Never.
MRS. HEEP (entering): Uri, make terms. Be ‘umble.
HEEP (snapping): No, mother! No more! No more of this! No more pulling off our caps, making bows, knowing our place and abasing ourselves before our betters! No more of it!
TROTWOOD (taking Heep by the collar): You know what I want?
HEEP: What, a straitjacket? A husband?
TROTWOOD: I want my home!
HEEP: Well, I ain’t got it. You and yours have always hated me and mine, and who are ya? A fine set of people. You, Copperfield, were pure scum before anyone had charity on ya. And you, Mrs. T, you’re a grim old prospect. No wonder your old man knocked you about.
(She slaps him. He slaps her back. She slaps him again. He slaps her again. David punches him in the face. He goes down.)
PEGGOTTY (to David): Now stove his head in with a cake.
WICKFIELD (to Heep): And in case that wasn’t clear enough, you’re dismissed with immediate effect.
HEEP (to David): You were always a puppy with a proud stomach, ridin’ on the coattails of that vile creature who called you Daisy.
TROTWOOD: Trotwood.
PEGGOTTY: Doady.
DORA (suddenly in the room): Davy.
DAVID (to Heep): My name is David Copperfield!
HEEP: I forgive ya, Mr. Copperfield.
DORA: It is not for you to forgive anyone, Mr. Heep. (to her dog) Isn’t that right, Jip? Yes, it is.
DICK (confused): What’s she doing here?
DORA (thinking a moment): There’s no reason for me to be here.
(The scene changes to Dora and David alone at home, as she watches him write.)
DORA: I wasn’t there! Heep happened yesterday and I was away.
DAVID: I know, but I’m writing it now, and I want you to be in it.
DORA: I fear I don’t properly fit.
DAVID: I want you to be in all my stories.
DORA: No, I don’t belong. Write me out of it. But I still want to be of some use. May I hold your pens?
(He gives her his jar of pens. She smiles as she takes it.)
DORA: Do let me know when you need a new pen.
DAVID: Yes.
(She stands there while he writes.)
DORA: I really don’t fit. (setting down the jar) Write me out, Doady.

I close with the most powerful scene I saw in a theater, which happened to come just before the lockdown. Eliza Hittman’s Never Rarely Sometimes Always spends most of its time following its protagonist Autumn in silence as she travels to New York City to have an abortion. This late scene in the clinic with a counselor is the first time she opens up, and along with the camera’s pitiless gaze and the performances, it’s the clinical, procedural language of the interrogation that brings home just what sort of predicament that Autumn is in.

KELLY: Who came with you today?
AUTUMN: My cousin.
KELLY: Have they been supportive?
AUTUMN: Yeah.
KELLY: Okay. Can you tell me what led to your decision to terminate the pregnancy?
AUTUMN: I’m just not ready to be a mom.
KELLY: That’s totally fine. Whatever your decision is, it’s totally fine as long as it’s yours. Is there anyone who’s pressuring you to be here today to terminate this pregnancy?
AUTUMN: No.
KELLY: I’m gonna ask you some questions about your medical history. There’s lots of questions, just answer as best you can. Do you take any medication or use any drugs on a regular basis?
AUTUMN: No.
KELLY: Have you taken any medication or used drugs of any kind today?
AUTUMN: No.
KELLY: Have you ever had any medical problems before like anemia, asthma, high blood pressure? Anything like that?
AUTUMN: I don’t know. Don’t think so.
KELLY: Okay. Are you allergic to any medication?
AUTUMN: No.
KELLY: No. Do you have any allergies to latex or shellfish?
AUTUMN: No.
KELLY: Have you ever had surgery before?
AUTUMN: No.
KELLY: No. Ever been in the hospital for anything?
AUTUMN: No.
KELLY: Have you ever had anesthesia before?
AUTUMN: No.
KELLY: No, okay. Anyone in your family have any major illness like cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure? Parents, grandparents?
AUTUMN: I — No, not that I know of.
KELLY: Okay. And do you have a healthy diet?
AUTUMN: I think so?
KELLY: Kinda? Do you exercise regularly?
AUTUMN: Not really.
KELLY: Mmmkay. Do you use seat belts?
AUTUMN: Yeah.
KELLY: Okay, good. Any life changes recently or stresses?
AUTUMN: Um, no.
KELLY: Okay. Any health hazards at home?
AUTUMN: Not really.
KELLY: When was the last time you went to the doctor?
AUTUMN: Um, like, a year ago.
KELLY: Okay. And at what age did you first have sex?
AUTUMN: Uh, 14.
KELLY: Okay. And what types of sexual activity have you had? Vaginal, anal, or oral?
AUTUMN: All of them.
KELLY: Okay. And how many sexual partners do you currently have?
AUTUMN: One.
KELLY: Okay. And could your partner have any other partners that you’re aware of?
AUTUMN: Probably.
KELLY: Okay. And how many sexual partners have you had in the last 12 months?
AUTUMN: Uh, two.
KELLY: How about in your lifetime?
AUTUMN: Six.
KELLY: Okay, do you use any condoms or other barriers to protect yourself against HIV or other infections?
AUTUMN: Mmm-hmmm.
KELLY: Yeah? Okay, good. I want to spend a few minutes talking about your relationships, okay, because they can affect your health. Did you know that?
(Autumn shakes her head.)
KELLY: All right, so I’m gonna ask you some questions. They can be really personal, and all you have to do is answer either “never,” “rarely,” “sometimes,” or “always.” It’s kinda like multiple choice, but it’s not a test.
AUTUMN: Yeah.
KELLY: Okay, in the past year, your partner has refused to wear a condom: never, rarely, sometimes, always?
AUTUMN: Sometimes.
KELLY: Okay. And your partner messes with your birth control or tries to get you pregnant when you don’t want to be: never, rarely, sometimes, always?
AUTUMN: Never.
KELLY: Right. Your partner has threatened or frightened you: never, rarely, sometimes, always?
AUTUMN: Why are you asking me this?
KELLY: I want to make sure that you’re safe. Your partner has threatened or frightened you: never, rarely, sometimes, always?
AUTUMN: Um, rarely.
KELLY: Okay. Your partner has hit you, slapped you, or physically hurt you: never, rarely, sometimes, always? (pause) Has your partner ever hit you, slapped you, or physically hurt you? (no answer) Is someone hurting you? (silence) It’s okay. It’s just a couple more questions, all right? Your partner has made you have sex when you didn’t want to: never, rarely, sometimes, always? (Autumn starts to cry) It’s okay. I want to make sure that you’re safe and I want to help you if I can. I have just one more question for you, okay, Autumn? Has anyone ever forced you into a sexual act in your lifetime: yes or no?
AUTUMN: Um, yeah.
KELLY: Okay. Do you want to tell me about it?
AUTUMN: No, not–
KELLY: It’s okay. I’m gonna give you my number, and you can call me. We don’t have to talk about it today, but you can call me if you need to talk or if you need some help, okay?

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