As part of the Los Angeles Film Festival, we saw a screening of Robbie Pickering's Natural Selection, starring Rachael Harris (The Hangover) and Matt O'Leary. The film is magnificent and truly deserves all the praise it's been getting (it won the critic and audience award at SXSW during its premiere at the festival).
The film, which Pickering wrote and directed as a kind of ode to his mother, embraces the delicate charms of life, while still remaining, at its core, a film about a strong and determined woman.
Harris stars as Linda, a deprived housewife who does the best she can to make her husband happy and stay true to her strict Christian upbringing. When her husband has a massive stroke and is left in critical condition, Linda decides she must find her husband's illegitimate child (whom she just found out about) and begins her journey to Florida.
Through this journey, she develops a bond with her husbands "son" Raymond (played by Matt O'Leary) and finds out there is more to life than her constricted surroundings. Raymond is a polar opposite of Linda and the two find strength and wisdom in each other's situations.
On the surface, Natural Selection is a story about a woman going to find another human being, but it becomes a journey of self-discovery and healing, after 25 years of holding back.
Harris is at the top of her game as the lead and she doesn't take a single misstep from beginning to end. She proves she can handle herself in the elite group of female actors poisted to carry a film and she does it with grace and expertise.
Matt O'Leary is a perfectly juxtaposed character and proves he can shine as bright as the rest of young Hollywood. The chemistry between these two characters is brilliantly depicted.
Pickering gets a lot out of his actors and creates a charming world in the middle of utter chaos - a world where religious zealot and harden criminal can relate and come to a mutual respect. Doesn't seem very believable, but Pickering creates something special where this is utterly possible
John Dieh does a great job as Linda's God-fearing husband and Jon Gries rounds out the cast Linda's brother-in-law on a mission to rescue he from her life-changing journey.
Religion also plays a central role in the film, but it is subtle and acts more as a stepping stone to the other issues in the film. Overall, Natural Selection breaks out of the usual boundaries placed on Hollywood dramas and delivers a truly satisfying tale of redemption.