Linda (Rachael Harris) is a forty something good wholesome Christian woman married to Abe (John Diehl), a man who believes the only reason to have intimate relations with his wife is in order to procreate. As Linda has been diagnosed as barren the couple do not do the deed leaving Linda extremely frustrated, but they have their faith which gets them through it. However, in his spare time Abe likes to secretly donate his sperm at the local clinic and on one occasion, while depositing, he suffers from a debilitating stroke that results in Linda finding out his secret. She is understandably angry but being the good woman she is she decides to grant Abe an almost dying wish, to find his son he fathered through the clinic. So Linda sets off on a journey to find Raymond (Matt O’Leary), who turns out to be an escaped convict, drug addict and overall low life, and bring him back to meet his father. What follows is the unlikely pair embarking on a road trip full of adventures and Linda discovers what she really wants in life.
Whilst this sounds incredibly clichéd, Natural Selection manages to feel fresh due to the tremendous performances by Harris and O’Leary and a well written script by first time director Robbie Pickering. It is refreshing to see a Christian woman portrayed as a normal human being with desires and whilst the journeys these characters go on may be a tad predictable the ending is really strong and avoids being clichéd, redeeming itself from any previous considerations of such.
It is easy to see why the two lead actors picked up awards for their performances at SXSW Film Festival earlier this year. Harris is outstanding as the do-gooder who decides it’s time to do what she wants to do, her performance reminiscent of Hollywood heavy weights such as Holly Hunter and Laura Linney in both the way she looks and her mannerisms. O’Leary has the most memorable scene in the film at the beginning when we see Raymond burst out of a lawnmower bag, escaping from prison. He is extremely convincing as the rogue son and the amount of detail put into his appearance is brilliant, he looks suitably disgusting for most of the film, his yellow decaying teeth particularly drawing my attention.
Even the smaller roles are extremely well acted, from the preacher brother in law of Linda played by Jon Gries, who goes on a mission himself to find Linda and rescue her from Raymond, to John Diehl’s Abe who we should dislike due to his controlling nature but we end up feeling sorry for instead. There are some genuinely funny moments in the film but it is not afraid to have some deep and meaningful moments too and the balance is just right. The film felt like the perfect length and had enough going on throughout to keep me thoroughly entertained.
Essentially a road-trip movie, Natural Selection is not the most original film but it uses conventions well and adds its own ingredients to the mix. It feels like it is aware of this fact and uses it to its own advantage, producing a genre piece with a bit of a difference. Ultimately it is the well written characters that hold this film together, they are likeable and human and do not exist on the merit of stereotypes. The film visually depicts the small towns that the characters encounter as places stuck in a previous decade, the colours of the film dominated by browns and pastel blues, which compliment Linda’s dowdy aged clothing. It is a nice touch and really adds to the believability of the characters and their environments.
The film is full of endearing moments, moments that depict the naivety and vulnerability of human beings as well as the guilt that can stay with us for many years, and its heart will hopefully mean it will reach a wide audience.
Natural Selection is a thoroughly enjoyable film with stand-out performances, a great script and assured direction. Robbie Pickering is someone to watch.
Director and Writer: Robbie Pickering
Cast: Rachael Harris, Matt O’Leary, John Diehl, Jon Gries
Runtime: 90 mins