Linda White, a barren Christian housewife, leads a sheltered existence in suburban Texas. Her world is turned upside-down when she discovers that her dying husband, Abe, has a 23-year old illegitimate son named Raymond living in Florida. Somewhere on the edge of guilt and loneliness, Linda grants Abe's final wish and sets off on a quixotic journey to find Raymond and bring him back before her husband passes away. Along the way, Linda's wonderfully bizarre relationship with Raymond will teach her more about herself than she ever imagined possible and force her to come to terms with her troubled past.
Natural Selection tells the story of Linda (Rachael Harris from The Hangover), a devout Christian woman in Texas who is unable to conceive children. Because he believes sex is for procreation only, her husband, Abe (John Diehl, better known as Detective Zito on "Miami Vice") will not have sex with her. Abe is such a firm believer in reproduction that he, unbeknownst to Linda, is a regular contributor to a sperm bank. His latest trip to the depository results in his having a near-fatal stroke and he is sent to the hospital where Linda not only finds out about his secret donations, but is also told that he has a slim chance for recovery. Linda, justifiably shocked by her husband's spreading of his seed, nonetheless honors what she believes to be Abe's dying wish and tracks down a son that was born from one of his donations. Her detective work leads her to Florida where she meets Raymond (Live Free or Die Hard's Matt O'Leary), a drug-dealing ex-con who, initially, is unwilling to return to Texas to meet his biological father. Raymond only agrees to accompany Linda when he narrowly escapes a police raid and needs to skip town, and the two embark on their crazy road trip back to Texas. Along the way, Linda learns that Raymond may not be the person that she and Abe believe he is, while Raymond finds out that Linda has a few secrets of her own that she has been keeping.
Natural Selection is the first feature film from writer/director Robbie Pickering (whose The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea will be out later this year), and it falls somewhere between a road movie and a buddy comedy. For a debut effort, it's surprisingly smart, unpretentiously funny and more than a little quirky. Pickering's ear for dialogue and his remarkable insight into character make for an entertaining and interesting ride. The film has both a strong story arc and character arc, as the audience gets to see Linda and Raymond's relationship develop while they tackle the trials and tribulations of their journey. There are plenty of clever twists and turns along the way, including the kinds of developments that leave the audience wondering why they didn't see them coming sooner. Natural Selection takes the viewer on a fun adventure with Linda and Raymond, and no one knows where it will end up until it gets there.
The chemistry displayed between Rachael Harris and Matt O'Leary during their expansive shared screen time is wonderful. Harris plays the sheltered, oppressed Linda in a way that holds her in stark contrast to O'Leary's fly-by-night criminal Raymond, and the juxtaposition of the two polar opposites that find common ground and common enemies is a lot of fun to watch. There are two scenes in particular in which the pair really shine. In the initial meeting of the two, Linda and Raymond sit uncomfortably in his living room, her trying to explain to him that his father is not who he thinks it is, and him thinking that she is just a religious freak trying to sell him on God. In a later scene, the two are opening up to each other in a closed diner, both sharing their darkest secrets while trying to decide if what they're hearing is true. Harris and O'Leary have a great interplay, constantly pulling at each other so that each gives a little, Raymond finding his own conscience and Linda realizing her wild side. Natural Selection is completely about the two characters, and Harris and O'Leary prove that they are both up to the task.
Robbie Pickering's sense of humor in Natural Selection leans towards the dry side, but it is an intelligent humor that is born out of the characters more than the situations. There is very little slap-stick, leaving most of the comedy to come out of the character's lines and ideas. Of course, the dichotomy of Linda and Raymond is good for plenty of laughs, but the hard-core Christians in Abe and Linda's congregation are ripe for the comedic plucking as well. For instance, the minister for their church, a zealot named Peter (played by John Gries, better known as Uncle Rico in Napoleon Dynamite), decides that Linda has been abducted by Raymond and sets off to rescue her with predictably incompetent results. Natural Selection pokes more fun at religious fanatics than it does at religion itself; the humor is not particularly offensive, and anyone who finds insult in it probably sees a little too much of themselves in the film when they watch.
March 16, 2012