You’d think as much as I love South by Southwest, I would have seen the film that won the festival. No, I had to wait for it to come to the Los Angeles Film Festival, but I can see how it made such an impression in Austin.
Linda (Rachael Harris) wants to have morning sex with her husband Abe (John Diehl) but instead he prays they resist the temptation. They’re so devout that since she can’t conceive, Abe thinks it’s a sin to have sex just for fun. Turns out Abe’s been donating sperm to meet his needs, and he jerks himself into a stroke.
Desperate, Linda finds out whom Abe might have fathered and goes to meet him and bring him back. Raymond (Matt O’Leary) is the oddball mismatch that completes her perfect wacky road trip pair. He’s an escaped convict, a vulgar druggie and looks like he hasn’t showered in months.
The comedy is funny. Classic formulae work. The clash of disparate worlds leads Linda to trust Raymond naively and Raymond to get exasperated by Linda’s kindness. There’s some pratfalling when Raymond gets beaten up and stumbles around. Comedy continues when they bond. Raymond gets really excitable telling his lowlife stories and starts to defend Linda even when he’s trying to rip her off.
It’s a really beautiful performance by Harris. That’s a revelation to some people but I never doubted she had it in her. Why wouldn’t a successful comedian be an all around engaging thespian? She is adorable being naively kind and getting drunk with Raymond. When she opens up, it’s painful and real, not Oscar baiting.
Like all road movies, Linda and Raymond get stranded and more desperate as they try to get back to Abe. It’s better than Due Date, which would be the most recent Hollywood equivalent. I gave Due Date a positive review, so I guess I have to extend that courtesy to Natural Selection.
Natural Selection certainly has more dramatic resolution, if you’re into that. I like how it condemns the religious hypocrisy right away. Yeah, sex is only for making babies, but Abe’ll donate sperm as a loophole. You’ll probably figure out why it turns out Linda can’t conceive, but the point isn’t the surprise. It’s a personal revelation that would take a long time, a few days on the road or about 70 minutes of screen time to reveal.
Writer/director Robbie Pickering milked more comedy out of a standard situation than his Hollywood counterparts and found some human drama too. In the grand scheme of things, that’s basic, but for a first film this is amazing.