A commendable ultra-low budget indie road trip flick, “Natural Selection” fails to fire on all cylinders.
Debut director Robbie Pickering brings you this one straight from the heart, Texas style. Filmed in and around Austin, it is the story of a woman finding herself, in a place where few women seem to get the chance.When her husband Abe (John Diehl) has a stroke secretly contributing to a sperm bank his dutiful wife Linda (Rachel Harris) sets off to grant him his last wish. His wish is that he might see his illegitimate son, living in Florida, before the stroke finishes him off.
What follows is a rambling road trip through the rough and ready wilds of the cheap motels and honkytonks of the Florida and Texas heartlands. In the course of the journey, Linda finds and bonds with her alienated stepson Raymond (Matt O'Leary). In so doing, she finds herself as well, coming to understand that she has been living a life of abuse at the hands of Abe.
A devout Christian, Linda has allowed Abe to reject her along with any feelings of intimacy he might have had, based on her inability to bear children. Abe objectified Linda and, slowly but surely, brainwashed her into submission.
The church plays a part in Linda’s pre-road trip miasma. As a devout Christian, she has attempted to put the fundamentalist teachings of male dominance in the forefront. Confronted with Raymond’s outrageously irreverent (and downright illegal) lifestyle a new world opens up for Linda.
Although it is not a world she wants, it amounts to a rebirth for the overly sheltered woman. As the film progresses, Linda comes to realize she has feelings of love for Raymond that surpass those of a mother. She finds her role as a woman and her role as a mother at the same time.
The cinematography is of the wide-open plains and the claustrophobic interiors of small town America. The inviting freedom of the land is contrasted to the petty and mean spirits of some of the people who inhabit it.
The church and traditional values are given a drubbing and the ascendency of the liberated woman is raised to the apex. Fine enough messages, but sufficiently milked in the past to require a definitive edge for this film to be a success. It does not pull it off.
Rachael Harris played the rancorous girlfriend of Ed Helms in the indie hit “The Hangover.” She also co-starred with Helms on “The Daily Show.” This film is an adequate showcase for her acting skills but in the end the screenplay lets us down.
The extremes of the story seem too rushed for the time allotted and the skills and lines of the supporting actors are insufficient. Although Harris won the 2011 SXSW Film Festival Breakthough Performance award for her work in this film, she is the only bright spot.
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Directed and Written by: Robbie Pickering
Starring: Rachael Harris, Jon Gries and Matt O'Leary
Release Date: March 16, 2012
MPAA: Rated R for sexual content, language, brief graphic nudity, a beating and some drug material
Running Time: 90 Minutes