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When a dutiful, albeit barren Christian housewife discovers that her devout husband has suffered a stroke at a sperm bank where he's been secretly donating his seed for the past 25 years, she leaves her sheltered world and starts off on a journey to find his eldest biological son
For more about Natural Selection and the Natural Selection Blu-ray release, see Natural Selection Blu-ray Review published by Brian Orndorf on March 12, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Rachael Harris, Matt O'Leary, Jon Gries
Director: Robbie Pickering
» See full cast & crew
Natural Selection Blu-ray Review
Love is found in Florida.
Reviewed by Brian Orndorf, March 12, 2013
"Natural Selection" has all the hallmarks of an average independent production, with its HD cinematography, mild razzing of religious conviction, and unshowered performers embodying the middle-class and the borderline insane. Writer/director Robbie Pickering isn't shy about following trends, but he's also smart about storytelling, endeavoring to disrupt the norm with a strange tale of devotion and love buttered on a road trip saga where things often go horribly wrong for the lead characters. "Natural Selection" is a comedy, with excitable personalities and broad confrontations, but Pickering clearly loves these screwed-up souls, bending the material away from mockery, gradually revealing his sincerity in a manner that's contagious. Supported by marvelous performances and a prominent soundtrack, the feature satisfies and even surprises on occasion, introducing Pickering as a filmmaker with an interest in emotional content instead of serving up pedestrian acts of humiliation.
A Jesus-fearing wife to distant husband Abe (John Diehl), Linda (Rachael Harris) is sexually frustrated, having been refused intimacy for an eternity due to an incident with a "special baby." When Abe suffers a stroke while donating sperm inside a fertility clinic, Linda is floored by the revelation, struggling to comprehend her spouse's secret life while keeping up her duties as an obedient wife. Hearing Abe's hospital bed ramblings about a son, Linda accepts the mission to locate the boy, traveling from suburban Texas to backwater Florida to find Raymond (Matt O'Leary). Discovering a shady, soiled crook with drinking and drug problems, Linda is overjoyed to welcome Raymond into her life, quickly assuming a mothering role to this stranger, while finally finding someone willing to engage her on a confessional level, easing her loneliness. Hitting the road back to Texas, Raymond concentrates on ways to steal from and abandon Linda, yet he cannot deny the connection the two have developed. For Linda, Raymond is the version of Abe she's always wanted, gradually blurring the line between her pure intentions and her heartsick needs, complicating the situation further.
"Natural Selection" kicks off on an interesting note, watching Raymond escape prison via a lawnmower bag, emerging from the grass-filled container reborn as a free man, resembling an infant brand new to the world. It's Pickering's way of establishing the tone of the picture, with its patient manner (the lawnmower take three long passes before it's clear what's going on) and burst of activity, while introducing the audience to Hurricane Raymond. We also meet Linda in the same vivid manner, watching the rumpled, devoted woman earnestly make the moves on her strangely unresponsive husband, who then asks her to join him in prayer. It's these opposing forces of frustration that make up the foundation of "Natural Selection," with introductions key to comprehending the psychology of the characters and their problematical pairing.
Pickering does fall into the trap of stereotyping a good Christian woman such as Linda, with her disheveled appearance, practical clothing, and frazzled belief in a guiding force. It's a cliché the script works hard to overturn, laboring to find dimensions to the woman as her routine is shattered by revelations of sperm donation and time with Raymond. The interplay between the characters drives "Natural Selection," observing the pair getting to know each other through conversation and side adventures, though Raymond spend most of the midsection of the story trying to ditch Linda, stealing her car, cash, and capacity for kindness as he abuses her generosity, only to find himself beaten and cheated for his efforts. There's another character in the mix with Linda's brother-in-law, Peter (Jon Gries), a distracted family man who takes off to find his secret love, trying to maintain contact along the journey, only to encounter a series of misunderstandings that suggest Raymond to be a monster keeping Linda for his own pleasure. The comedic potential of the subplot is unrealized and distracting, used primarily to fill up the 85-minute-long movie with addition manic energy.
"Natural Selection" is most assured sticking to the burgeoning relationship between Linda and Raymond, finding themselves bonding during this most unusual road trip situation that finds the pair moving around motels and, when the going gets tough, breaking into restaurants for meals and rounds of confession, often lubricated by alcohol -- excessive drinking being a pastime new to the faithful churchgoer. O'Leary's performance is a fine mix of unruly and redneck, playing up the character's feeble mentality and addiction to stupidity, while softening his approach as the days pass and the convict grows to take Linda's attention seriously. He's strong here, fabulously ugly and impulsive, but Harris is the real gem of the piece, delivering a rich read of combative emotions, riding a defined arc with a generous sharing of spirit and bible-based naiveté. Previously cornered in mousy or sarcastic roles, Harris is challenged by "Natural Selection," bringing out the best in the actress, who I hope is offered more juicy dramatic opportunities like this.
Natural Selection Blu-ray, Video Quality
The AVC encoded image (2.35:1 aspect ratio) presentation keeps a welcome crispness due to the HD cinematography, with fine detail the highlight of the viewing experience. With all these actors going without glamour, displays of skin provide rich details, while Raymond's bruising and cuts also provide interesting textures that pop onscreen. Locations also benefit from the BD event, maintaining the humid, ramshackle experience of the south (the feature was shot in Texas). Colors are subdued but expressive, finding costuming providing a wide range of hues to explore, while skintones remain human. Shadow detail thickens during low-light sequences, muddying screen activity to a modest degree, though much of the movie is captured in daylight, which provides a generous illumination to ease clarity. No print defects were detected.
Natural Selection Blu-ray, Audio Quality
The 5.1 DTS-HD MA sound mix marches forward with confidence, providing a wealth of soundtrack selections that register crisp and full, capturing the moment with precise instrumentation and a solid front stage presence, trailing distantly in the surrounds. Scoring is equally handsome and supportive without fogging the performances. Dialogue exchanges sound deep and meaningful, with a solid center grip and satisfactory separation. Emotional highs and lows are easily to follow, while accents and chaos remain free of distortion. Atmospherics are as powerful as possible, setting the Floridian mood, with a nice read of water movement and freeway bustle. Low-end arrives with heavier beats, but it's rarely triggered in this intimate dramedy.
Natural Selection Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Natural Selection Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
"Natural Selection" takes a few unexpected turns in its final act, rushing to a finale when the revelations demand a little more time to sink in. However, for first film, Pickering displays a welcome grasp of character and timing, also sustaining a funky mood of catastrophe that maintains pace. Perhaps it's not a substantial feature, but "Natural Selection" shapes something satisfying out familiar parts.
Natural Selection Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Natural Selection Blu-ray (Updated) - September 26, 2012
Independent distributors Cinema Guild have revealed that they are planning to release on Blu-ray Robbie Pickering's Natural Selection (2011), starring Rachael Harris, Jon Gries and Matt O'Leary. The preliminary release date set by the distributors is November ...
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