Director: Robbie Pickering
Runtime: 90 minutes
Natural Selection opens with a bible quote the Christine O’Donnell/anti-masturbation folks of the world live by, Leviticus: “thou shall not spill thy seed on the ground.” Like a Todd Solondz film, casting somewhat mainstream comedians in roles otherwise reserved for actors with indie cred, it’s a pleasure to see the arrival of Rachel Harris, the gifted comedian who always seems to pop up on those VH1 commentary shows. Harris stars as Linda, a devout Christian housewife whose husband of 25 years, Abe (John Diehl) refuses to have sex with her, because she cannot have children. Carrying through with a highly literal version of this quote, despite his morning wood, he won’t go near his wife. We later discover a key element that ties it all together, if not predictably.
After Abe suffers a stroke, while stroking (at a sperm bank, where he has been donating since the 1980’s) Linda goes on a quest to find his son, Raymond (Matt O’Leary). There are some predictable moments including Linda’s liberation with discovering alcohol and going crazy in motels. Structurally, I didn’t want them to have quirky adventures in motels on the road, which is a frequent theme in many indies. The film isn’t just about that, but there’s a largely missed opportunity to explore other cultural values along the way. The film was shot in Texas, perhaps they could visit and bring light to its most liberal parts.
Natural Selection is a parable about the dangers stemming from the repression of basic human desires. The comedy maintains a tight balance between the probable and the sad: there is emotional honesty throughout Robbie Pickering’s script which pulls it back from the brink of otherwise being a predicable plot, with several darkly comic moments.
As a document of time and place Natural Selection, in the post-Christine O’Donnell climate, is a useful reflection on a national conversation, which is dominated by values. There are two, and perhaps even three sets of values clashing here and Pickering maintains a lean and accessible balance, even in Linda’s moments of weakness. The film works due to the fine performances though, including Rachel Harris who is largely unrecognizable in Wal-Mart clothes. She may have been working in the business since the 90′s, but with Natural Selection she gives a breakout performance to launch her to the next acting echelon.
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