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Natural Selection

SXSW Film Review

Natural Selection

Director and Screenwriter: Robbie Pickering When a dutiful, albeit barren, housewife discovers that her ailing husband has an illegitimate son, she sets out to find the young man and reunite him with her husband before he dies. Cast: Rachael Harris, Matt O'Leary, Jon Gries, John Diehl (World Premiere)

WHO'S IT FOR?: Fans of Rachael Harris who can't imagine her in a serious role would likely enjoy taking a look at her performance in this film. Natural Selection comes with pacing that might not sit well with most, and it's certainly not for the types of human beings that Harris' character portrays. It carries the same type of animosity towards conservatives that a movie like Cedar Rapids shares, yet without a great amount of that film's direct attempts at humor.


Natural Selection is a gray movie caught between being either a funny drama or a sad comedy. It tends to lose its force when wrestling with these different tones, and makes for a halfway quality movie about admittedly unusual circumstances.

Riffing on some conservative commentary that might have peeked into a Todd Solondz movie, Natural Selection starts strong with comedian Rachel Harris’ very believable depiction of a god-fearing and obedient wife of the suburbs. His eyes are hollowed, just like her emotions have been by whatever forces she feels fulfill her spirituality. It is a commendable performance for its rawness, never mind that it comes from one of the funniest talking heads from shows like “I Love the 80’s.”

Once Natural Selection takes off into its bizarre plot, which has Harris’ character driving to Florida to pick up a young man (played by Matt O'Leary) created from her religious husband’s secret sperm clinic visits, it starts to become the un-fun form of odd. Her “step-son” is manipulative to her naivety, and we are told this in numerous sequences, ones that drag the film down and leave it as a pseudo road-movie of middle-of-the-road quality. Writer-director Robbie Pickering is able to create two opposing characters, but isn’t able to register much emotion without the help of his great soundtrack.

I feel lucky enough that I saw the absolute first showing Natural Selection when it played at SXSW just as a simple contender for the “Narrative Feature” category. Yet after viewing the film, it became the movie I thought about the least (that includes the horrid blacktino). This was even a bit after Natural Selection dominated the festival’s award ceremony, winning for “Best Editing,” “Best Screenplay,” along with both audience and jury awards for “Best Narrative Feature.” It also picked up two awards for “Breakthrough Performance,” one of which went to Rachael Harris.

I don’t feel lucky enough, however, to say that Natural Selection was the only film from the Narrative Feature Competition that I saw. If the movies in the category aren’t any better than Natural Selection, then I’ve missed out in an especially disappointing selection of top contender movies.


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