This slice of stereotypical independent Americana was either here nor there, with Natural Selection essentially falling in to the harmless yet uneventful spot traditionally occupied by any number of MOR American “independent” films at festivals all over the world.
Effectively a road trip movie, with an Odd Couple spin, Robbie Pickering’s film is a nicely made, occasionally brilliant tale of a pair of mismatched relatives crossing the USA, as Linda (Rachael Harris), a put upon Christian wife attempts to reunite Raymond (Matt O’Leary), the secret twentysomething step-son that she never knew she had, with her dying husband, whose regular trips to a local sperm bank resulted in Raymond. Along the way the familiar beats of the American road movie are hit, with the pair encountering strange folk along the way (Buffalo Fuckers) and suffering from the usual setbacks such as losing their vehicle and being robbed and the like. What elevates the film slightly though, are a pair of genuinely surprising twists, that keep the tale fresh and, at the very least interesting, if not wholly exciting.
The two leads are great. O’Leary, best remembered for his turn as The Brain in Rian Johnson’s Brick is a likeable presence, his scumbag ex-con never failing in his ability to spiral further and further down the morality pit. His introduction, as he breaks out of prison via the vacuum bag of a lawn mower is genuinely memorable, which sets the tone for the character himself. Rachael Harris is something of a revelation too, her squintish charms channeling much better known actresses such as Holly Hunter and Laura Linney. And while the film itself may stray far too close to being unwelcomely baggy, in terms of the structure, the quirks provided by the cast rarely tires. A nice score, which recalls Sufjan Stevens but comes courtesy of the intriguingly named iZLER suits the tone of the film perfectly, but in a way only serves to solidify the films standing within this very specific, and ultimately rather tired sub-genre of American cinema.
Don’t get me wrong, Natural Selection isn’t particularly bad, in fact its very good at times, and I do feel that this review may come across as a tad harsh, but that’s in reflection of where the film stands in terms of this particular strand of American cinema at the moment, which is, ultimately and unfortunately, a rather dull place.