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Robbie Pickering had its World Premiere at SXSW where it was well-received and earned several awards. It is sort of an odd film about the struggles of damaged people. Natural Selection could be described as partially a critique of fundamentalist religion, part road trip film, and part human tragedy. It is the story of Linda who is trapped in a loveless marriage. She goes on a trip looking for one thing and discovers parts of herself that she didn't know existed. The script is well-written and the film is well-acted especially considering this is the writer/director's first feature film. The film avoids easy answers or simple judgments to complex questions. The character development for the two main characters is nuanced and provocative. In the end, the audience may be left with more questions than answers. The film seeks intended as a critique of dogmatism, but offers the viewer little in the way of alternative answers to hang on to.
I was somewhat skeptical of the premise of this film (which you can read elsewhere) before I saw it. However, writer and director Robbie Pickering does a masterful job of bringing this original and surprisingly compelling story to life. His main characters are cut from starkly different backgrounds (fundamentalist Christian housewife and petty criminal/drug addict) to good comedic effect but each reveals a depth that is both genuine and touching as the story unfolds. I should also mention that the production is outstanding as well - from the pacing and the cinematography to the score. That's hardly a given for an independent film! Last but certainly not least, the acting is fantastic across the board. Rachael Harris especially shines in what I can honestly describe as an Oscar-worthy performance. I had no idea what a talent she is. I dare you to see this film and not be wildly impressed by her.
An okay indie flick bolstered by a fantastic lead performance by comedienne Rachael Harris. Harris is probably best known for playing Ed Helms' wife in The Hangover, or perhaps for her appearances on The Daily Show or VH1's I Love the '70s/80s/whatever. One could never have predicted the depth she gives to her character here. She plays a sexless, Christian housewife whose husband (John Diehl) suffers from a stroke. It comes to light that, though he refuses to sleep with her, he frequents the local sperm bank. Harris feels betrayed, but her husband is at death's door, so she attempts to forgive him. He mutters, perhaps from delirium, that she needs to find a long lost son, and she sets out to find the young man. Matt O'Leary plays the drug addict she finds, and, attempting to escape the sheriff, he takes off with her on a road trip. O'Leary is quite good himself, but, again, it's Harris' movie. The film starts off a little snarky about the whole situation, but Harris takes her character's dilemma seriously and plays her as a woman in deep emotional turmoil. The film is a dramedy, and it's often very funny. But Harris' dramatic moments are the ones you're going to remember. She's a true revelation here, turning in one of the best performances of the year.
Rachel Harris has a familiar face and a personality that one has been
exposed to before. She has been in a number of background roles, from
Ed Helms' nagging wife in The Hangover, Greg's loving mother in the
ongoing Diary of a Wimpy Kid franchise, and a number of Television
roles, portraying numerous different characters.
Harris embodies quite possibly one of her trickiest roles to date in Robbie Pickering's Natural Selection, a charming, wholesome independent film that doesn't overcompensate either of those qualities. She plays Linda White, a heavily-sheltered, quietly morose Christian housewife who has been married to her husband Abe (John Diehl) and has never acted on sensual impulses because her husband's devout beliefs have told him it's a sin to act purely on horniness. Linda will not admit it, but the fact that her long marriage has remained drab and sexless is physically and mentally draining her.
When Abe is hospitalized and quickly approaching death, his dazed remarks about having an illegitimate kid on the count of frequent visits to sperm banks comes up and Linda commits to a cross-country trip from Texas to Florida to find the kid and bring him back to see his biological father before his death. The kid is a twenty-three year old punk named Raymond (Matt O'Leary), who has long been addicted to substance abuse, recklessness, alcohol, danger, and anything anti-normality. He is the polar opposite of sweet, religiously disciplined Linda, and by traveling across the country to get him, she must drive him back home, which gives the viewer some time to dive deeper into both their personalities.
What amazes me from a screenplay standpoint is the realism between the characters Rachel and Raymond. Being opposites, we see Raymond's cold, unmoving feeling of her being "some weird bitch who showed up on my doorstep claiming her husband is my biological (bilateral) father) and we see Rachel's sweet side basically reiterating, "there's a good boy in there somewhere." And we can definitely see, mainly from the film's extensive depiction of it, that years of religious practice and her husband's celibacy that those circumstances have made a truly patient, understanding woman, only making her relationship with Raymond work on multiple different levels that never seem to stretch beyond ones' imagination.
And again, the film largely works not only because of its screenplay, but because of its beautiful performances and sincerely, delicately captured southern locations that are equal parts warm and gritty. Matt O'Leary's character is wonderfully portrayed here, and Harris only brings out the most in him as an actor. Natural Selection shows us how performances and writing that is focused and alive can truly bring us a picture that otherwise could've been captured in a dim, shoddy light.
Starring: Rachel Harris, Matt O'Leary, Joe Diehl, and Jon Gries. Directed by: Robbie Pickering.
with many levels. and masks. because, at first sigh, it can be version of Transamerica or an usual indie. in fact, it is a touching story. about love, dreams, search of yourself and price of dreams. and its remarkable charm source is an impressive acting. exploration of character nuances, drawing of state of soul, full of adorable innocence drops. road-movie and map of transformation of two people, it is seductive discuss about life sense. so, not an ordinary movie. only a precise definition of atmosphere and wise broke of rules. a film who respires freedom. and who inspires. not moralistic but ironic. not extraordinary but interesting. not brilliant. only smart.
The sign of a great actor is to make their performance appear so effortless and natural there is little doubt they completely reflect the person they portray. There are a couple of great performances in this movie, but the one by Rachael Harris.. bit.ly/13oKWjl .. is just off the charts. Natural Selection would not be a movie receiving a lot of mainstream recognition, and that's a shame, for it is an absolutely wonderful little film, featuring one of the finest performances you're likely to see in awhile... hats off to Rachael !! PS.. The film so impressed critic Roger Ebert that he showed the film at Ebertfest in 2011 and granted it three and a half out of four stars.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
'Natural Selection' is a breath of fresh air in the indie film scene.
Director Robbie Pickering puts an original face and new spin on the
standard road trip film where a pair of people set out on a journey to
discover who they really are, a plot line that has been played out time
and time again. But with the performances of Rachael Harris and Matt
O'Leary, and Pickering's visual style, 'Natural Selection' rises above
the rest in the independent film genre.
The follows Linda (Rachael Harris), a shy evangelical woman who has been married to Abe (John Diehl) for a couple of decades. They live in a small town and both put God first before anything else. However, Linda is very sexually frustrated, as she hasn't been intimate with her husband for a long long time now, reason being that since Linda is unable to have a child, Abe believes that they shouldn't have sex for pleasure, but rather for just making babies. Needless to say, Linda is is pretty depressed about it, although she stays true to her husband.
However, one day as she is talking with her pastor/brother-in-law Peter (John Gries), she gets a phone call informing her that Abe has suffered a major stroke, but is still alive. It is also revealed that he had the stroke at a local sperm bank, which he has frequents quite often since they were married, and also enjoys watching fetish porn as he fills those cups.
Linda is outraged as she has come to the thought that she is unwanted by her husband for all of these years, but he still goes to the sperm bank every chance he gets. She feels inadequate, guilty, and overall worthless, mostly because she wasn't able to provide Abe with a child. So, Linda secretly looks into the sperm bank's files and finds one of the kids Abe has fathered through the sperm bank, and thus sets us off on our journey so that Linda can bring him to Abe, in hopes of giving him a child he so desperately wants, before he dies.
Unfortunately, this kid is now in his mid to late twenties and goes by the name of Raymond (Matt O'Leary), and is a wicked drug habit, a foul mouth, and has just recently escaped prison, which we see the hilarious and brilliant escape in the opening scene of the film. From here we see these two worlds on opposite ends of the spectrum collide with Linda's shy and true nature in helping, and Raymond's drug fueled rages and incoherent ramblings bring one closer to another. Never done in a cheesy way, both are on journeys within themselves as they are physically on the road. This is mostly a serious drama film, besides some of the story plot and the character of Peter, who literally goes insane, when he finds out about Linda's journey.
Harris is phenomenal in her role. It completely surprised me and I think she could win an Oscar for this role or a future role. If you don't recognize Rachael Harris, you might remember her from 'The Hangover' as Stu's (Ed Helms) bitchy girlfriend. You won't even recognize her in 'Natural Selection' and she just steals the show. As for Matt O'Leary, he also does a solid job of playing a drug addicted loser. He plays it so well, that there is not one point of the film where you do not root for him. He is very likable, even though he does some deplorable things.
'Natural Selection' is a fine film. It will be in my rotation cue to show people this stroke of genius. The acting, directing, and story are quite engaging and is a great addition to the independent film world. I hope all indie filmmakers strive for a film like this. I definitely recommend this.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The two main characters made the story, even though I had a tough time
understanding a woman of Linda's age having so few basic survival
instincts when she first meets the, clearly dangerous, druggie son. I
got a huge kick out of the 'slice of devout Christian life' (at least
as far as these characters were concerned), the inherent hypocrisy they
were living daily, and making good excuses to themselves and others for
such inconsistency in how they stood by their beliefs.
There were gaps in the storyline, that if they'd been there, the characters (especially Linda) would have been a bit less hard to understand/empathize with, but overall these gaps did not ruin the movie. The biggest problem I found with the story, and why I didn't rate it even higher, is that the story skipped from the 'dark moment' straight to the ending without US, the audience, getting to see Linda prove that she had grown and changed (by making that stand to her husband, and to her abusive sister, as well). Also: The ending shot, really, (and maybe this is because we didn't get to see her face down the person that had 'done her wrong' and prove that she finally had a spine), didn't really feel like it matched the actual character arc that the screenwriter started out wanting her to have (or wanting us to think she was going to have). The first shot we see of her (and quite a few more as the story progresses) seems to say that she is a woman who needs to empower herself sexually (and by doing so, empower herself in all other areas of her life where she has been a doormat), to overcome the event from her past that sent her into her current life, but, alas, this is not ever resolved on camera. Instead, the resolution takes place off screen, and all we see is where she goes to enjoy her new-found freedom. (Of course, since I didn't get to see her stand up for herself, I can't help but think: okay, here you are, in your current state--what are you going to do now? Are you even capable of taking care of yourself? Since I didn't get to see her take charge of her life, it leaves me wondering if she actually did, or if she'll fail and go back to her old life after her little 'vacation' from it.
Would I watch this film again? Yes, probably--because I found the concept very compelling, and the two main actors played off of each other extremely well.
Wow, I was pleasantly surprised by this film. I wasn't expecting much,
and it held my attention and kept me engaged throughout. The
characterization is quiet and powerful, and the writing is excellent.
Not really predictable at all, which made it refreshing. A great,
subtle blend of comedy and drama.
This is a very strong feature directorial debut for Pickering, who also wrote the film. (He has another film in pre-pro for release next year I will most definitely make a note to see it). Very textured story, great writing, with lots of great metaphors and offers many poignant critiques of gray areas of culture, religion, and relationships. The acting, editing, and score are also excellent.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I found this one on Netflix streaming movies. Very quirky comedy about
a woman, married 25 years in a sexless relationship, now trying to find
some closure in her life.
Matt O'Leary is Raymond (or pretending to be Raymond). As the movie opens we see him making some sort of escape from one of the Huntsville prisons. (There are 9 prisons in the Huntsville area.) He somehow has crawled into a large grass mower bag and as the mowing guy takes a break, Raymond tears open the bag and runs away. We will see him later in the story.
Rachael Harris is really good as Linda who as we eventually learn became pregnant when she was 16 and her older sister arranged an abortion. They thought the doctor was good but as a result of the procedure she lost her ability to have children. She and her husband being very strict Christians, he refused to have sex with her for the 25 years of their marriage because of the Biblical admonition of a spilling his seed on barren ground.
John Diehl is the husband, Abe. But Abe has kept a secret all those years, he had been visiting a sperm bank in Jersey Village (right down the street from where I live!) as his way of insuring that he passed down his genetic makeup. No one would have known, had he not suffered the stroke in the clinic while "making a contribution" (wink, wink).
So this information throws Linda's world all upside down. When she asks a worker at the clinic how long her husband had been going there, "I'm not sure, I've only worked here since 1988." As Abe first regains consciousness he whispers something that Linda thinks means she should find his son.
(I found myself wondering, if he had been doing that for all of their marriage, might he not have 20 or 30 children running around? Or more??) Anyway she manages to sneak some information that identifies Abe as the biological father of a Raymond who lives in Tampa, FL.
So most of the movie is Linda's road trip first trying to find Raymond and convince him to go back to Texas and meet his dying biological father, then the road trip of multiple mishaps trying to get back to Texas. It was mostly entertaining, in a goofy, quirky sort of way.
SPOILERS: When Linda finds the Tampa address and finds Raymond, he lies to her. He isn't really Raymond, only rooms with him, but needs a quick ride out of Tampa to avoid police, presumably tracking him down after the Huntsville prison escape. He is an untrustworthy opportunist and Linda is a gentle, trusting soul. This gets them into a number of binds, her car and all her cash in her money belt are stolen, Raymond manages to trade some drugs for a small dirt bike get them home, wherever that was. It looked like Bastrop and Smithville. The last scene has Linda going to the Gulf and wading in the water, symbolic I suppose, because in spite of her "barrenness" became pregnant in a drunken fit of passion on the road trip home. To the young man she thought was her husband's son. Yes, a bit quirky.
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