Natural Selection
Directed by Robbie Pickering, Starring Rachel Harris, Matt O’Leary
USA, 2011

Natural Selection took this year’s SXSW Film festival by storm, winning multiple awards in a crowded field including Best Narrative Feature, Best Screenplay and the Grand Jury Prize. With confidence bolstered by such a decisive win, the producers of this dark comedy are expanding the film’s campaigin to every film festival under the sun, including SIFF. But will this film prove to be the juggernaut that SXSW audiences believed it to be? Or will Seattle up-turn its nose to the hype?

Groundlings alum Rachel Harris (The Hangover) stars as Linda, a devoted yet sex-starved wife who adopts her husband’s strong Christian values. After her husband suffers a heart attack, she sets off to find his sperm bank offspring, only known to her as Raymond. Matt O’Leary (Brick) plays the prodigal son, now an escaped convict and a meth addict. Linda, wanting the two to be reunited before her husband passes on, is desperate to get Raymond back to her hometown, despite his vocal reluctance. Adventures are had, personalities are opened up, mistakes are made and conclusions are reached.

What makes Natural Selection stand out above the now faceless American Indie Film genre is its two main stars. Over the course of the film, Linda’s character reveals a satisfying amount of depth, and Harris handles shedding these complicated layers without being overwhelmed by the weight of the character. It’s a clinical ugly duckling/swan turn, but done without makeup or special effects. O’Leary also does a fantastic job as Raymond, nailing the part of a junkie down on his luck and looking for a bit of salvation. Seeing them both in the same scene is enthralling, and the film gives them plenty of room to breathe.

Unfortunately, that’s about all I can recommend about this movie. The rest suffers from typical indie bloat, half-baked characters and situations that don’t really merit screen time. Everything involving the dishonest preacher is a bore. The husband’s character is not convincing one way or another. And most disappointingly, the film ends on a flat note, broadcasting its ending way before any tension can be built up. If I see another love triangle where the director is all “Aha! But she took option C!” I’ll eat my press pass.

So kudos to Pickering for winning those awards, but I’d be surprised if there was a repeat at this year’s SIFF. There are just so many more complete films to consider.

Natural Selection will screen at the 2011 Seattle International Film Festival at these times and locations:

Egyptian Theater – May 25th 7:00 PM
Egyptian Theater – May 27th 4:00 PM

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