TFF Opening Night Film Review – Natural Selection

Abe is so conservative he believes his wife’s infertility is a sign from God—they should not have sex. Ever.

Despite the self-enforced “No Sex” law, Abe (John Diehl) still feels compelled to procreate—just maybe not exactly the way God intended. For 25 years, Abe has been fulfilling his need to carry on the human species by making regular deposits at the local sperm bank.

The desperate but devoted wife is Linda White, played by Rachael Harris (The Hangover). It isn’t until Abe suffers a stroke in the middle of his most recent ejaculatory donation that she learns of her husband’s seed spreading. Surprised, but ever the dutiful wife, Linda remains faithful to her husband, especially while he’s on his deathbed. Linda goes as far to assume her husband’s dying wish: track down his illegitimate child, bring him home, and let Abe meet his only son.

Natural Selection (2011) is half dramatic comedy, half road movie, and tells a story about strange introductions, the degree of naïveté that resides in us all, and, despite all odds, how to intrinsically connect with another human being. This debut feature by writer-director Robbie Pickering unfolds the introduction of a plain Christian housewife to her husband’s illegitimate, on the run from the law, potty-mouthed son, Raymond (Matt O’Leary).

The underlying truth to Natural Selection is that we, as human beings, use each other. To say, “use each other” connotes an array of negative feelings and is, on the surface, true to the Linda and Raymond relationship: Linda uses Raymond to give her husband what she never could (a child), and Raymond uses Linda to evade capture from the police. But this is not the core of the experience between Linda and Raymond—and the film would fall unconvincingly flat if it were. Linda and Raymond do not intentionally set out to cause harm to one another; Linda and Raymond ultimately use each other to fulfill an innate need to emotionally connect with another person. In the process of their journey to Abe’s deathbed, Linda and Raymond achieve one of life’s most elusive occurrences—they affect positive change in each other’s lives.

Pickering has crafted an endearing film that manages to succeed as an offbeat comedy while simultaneously exposing the heart of human-to-human interactions. The unassuming dynamic between Linda and Raymond is catapulted into an emotionally effective film by the performances of lead actors Rachael Harris and Matt O’Leary. The casting of Harris and O’Leary elevates Pickering’s promising feature debut to a spectacular film with the potential to transcend the indie realm and be receptive within the mainstream market.

Audiences crave films that not only induce laughter and emotional investment, but diverge from the box office formula. And, oh, how Natural Selection succeeds on all counts. While watching the film I not only laughed, but cared—which are two components of film that rarely successfully meet at the same time. When the film ended, I sighed. It was a nice, happy sigh that follows after experiencing an engaging and creatively satisfying piece of art.

The success of Natural Selection as an indie gem became evident when it swept the SXSW film awards in March, taking a mere seven trophies. The film earned awards for the audience and Grand Jury prize for narrative feature, best screenplay, best editing, and best score/music.

This film is not to be missed.

If you’re anxious to see Natural Selection, you don’t have to wait for its theatrical release.

The Tacoma Film Festival invites you to “Catch It First” as Natural Selection was chosen for its opening night film, and will be played on Thursday, October 6th at Annie Wright School’s Kemper Theater. The opening night gala begins in the Great Hall at 6:30p.m. and offers plenty of time to eat, drink, be merry and mingle before the 7:30p.m. showing of Natural Selection. In addition to the experience you’re sure to have with the film, Matt O’Leary will be attending the showing and will participate in a Q&A session immediately after the film.

The Tacoma Film Festival is eager to set a tone with its opening night pick—a tone that speaks to the power of independent film to affect its audience. For more information about the Tacoma Film Festival, or to buy tickets, visit their website.

Final Grade: A-


Brook is a teller of stories, giver of hugs, and is incapable of folding fitted sheets.

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