I really had no intention of seeing Natural Selection at the South by Southwest (SXSW) Film Festival. The poster really creeped me out. I thought it was about backward rednecks from the South breeding or something. However, Natural Selection won the SXSW 2011 Grand Jury Winner, the Audience Award for the Narrative Feature Competition, actors Rachael Harris and Matt O’Leary won Breakthrough Performance awards, and director Robbie Pickering also won the Best Screenplay for a Narrative Feature. After all of those accolades I thought it deserved a second chance, and I was able to see it at the State Theatre in Austin, Texas on my last day at SXSW. Needless to say, the theater was packed.
Rachael Harris plays Linda, a super devoted wife to uber-Christian Abe (John Diehl). I use ‘super devoted’ because Linda has not had sex with her husband in over 24 years. This is because Abe does not believe in having sex except to procreate. Linda cannot have children; she was declared barren early in their marriage. Linda sure tries to get it on with her husband, but she’s shot down every time. Unfortunately, Linda’s world is shattered when Abe has a stroke — while donating his specimen at a sperm bank. Even though Linda can’t have kids, it did not stop Abe from spreading his seed. While Abe is in the hospital, he mumbles to Linda that he wants her to find his son. Seeing how Linda is a devoted wife and all, she is able to access the sperm bank’s files and locate Abe’s son. She travels to Florida by car to find Raymond, played by Matt O’Leary.
The majority of the film is focused on the trip back to Texas with Linda and Raymond. Linda is an incredibly naive person who believes just about anything anyone tells her. She believes in the good in people. Her life has just revolved around her husband. Raymond is kind of a lowlife, not really the kind of son Abe probably envisioned. Linda tries to show Raymond how to be a better person, but Raymond is resistant and takes advantage of Linda’s naivety. The two of them get involved in plenty of “shenanigans” in their travels. The film is pretty funny and relies heavily on Linda’s ignorance of the world and people, and Raymond taking advantage of that. Linda continually forgives Raymond because she knows how much Abe wants to meet him.
I have not seen much of Rachael Harris’ work. I mostly know her from commercials and small parts in The Hangover, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and other films and TV series. She was the main focus of the entire film, and this should certainly do wonders for her career. She transformed into a homely Christian wife from a small Texas town, bad hair and glasses included. However, Linda changes over the course of the film. She experiences more life and situations than she has ever seen in the course of her marriage to Abe. Rachael was able to successfully transform Linda into another person by the end of the film.
Matt O’Leary is not a name I recognized until I actually perused his IMDB page. Ah yes, the kid from Frailty. He has grown up and is able to transform himself into a character who is a gross, dirty, greasy low-life who jumps at the chance to get out of town and takes advantage of Linda. Even if I was aware of who O’Leary was prior to the screening, he is unrecognizable because of his transformation into Raymond. While Linda changes over the course of the film, so does Raymond. The audience’s perception of who he is changes with the decisions he ultimately makes.
I could go on about what happens in Natural Selection, but I think the best parts occur towards the end of the film and that would spoil it. I wish I could explain what the title of the film means, but that is only realized after the end credits start rolling. I did find myself laughing in this film, but it is neither the best film nor the funniest one I saw at SXSW. Both Rachael Harris and Matt O’Leary are excellent in their portrayals of their characters. Natural Selection is a good movie, with the laughs and the story to back it up. There is nothing bad about the movie or any problems I could point out, but in a festival chock full of films vying for attention, awards, and critic praise, Natural Selection was not on the top of my comedy or drama list. However, I am only one “critic.”
I give Natural Selection 3 “ Photographic Evidence” out of 5