In “Sometimes Always Never,” a witty, idiosyncratic British film written by Frank Cottrell Boyce and directed by Carl Hunter, Bill Nighy plays Alan Mellor, a widowed tailor chasing the shadow of a son who stormed out of a family Scrabble game years earlier and was never heard from again. (Unless you already know, you’ll have to watch the film to make sense of the title. It’s a small thing but well worth it.)
Alan has a convivial manner with a passive-aggressive tendency to meddle that charms some people but irritates his other son, Peter (Sam Riley), who paints ice cream trucks and writes jingles for a living. We meet the men as they take a road trip to a seaside town for reasons not immediately made clear.
The trip nicely sets up the tension between father and son, the family’s fondness for wordplay and the film’s own cadences and quirks. Jenny Agutter and Tim McInnerny are intriguing as a couple with whom Alan engages in the lounge of a small hotel, to Peter’s great discomfort.
One night shortly after, Alan stops by the house Peter shares with his wife, Sue (Alice Lowe), and teenage son, Jack (Louis Healy), stays the night and essentially moves in, bunking down in Jack’s room. Awkward at first, the arrangement becomes quite pleasant for everyone but Peter, who is increasingly irked by his father’s behavior.
Boyce and Hunter ration out bits of information and character details throughout the film, carefully balancing comedy and drama with the underlying puzzle that propels the story, while also allowing for tiny surprises. There’s a terrific ensemble — including Ella-Grace Gregoire as a girl Jack has a crush on — but it’s Nighy who will have you enthralled. He delivers a subtle, nuanced performance that allows the actor to shine while in full support of his costars.