The film starts with a prison escape, a literal rebirth for the prisoner as he removes himself from a lawnmower bag - his raw show of emotion and elation at his escape is not audible but the passion is evident.
Natural Selection is the debut featue from Robbie Pickering and swept the board at the SXSW festival in Austin, Texas. It tells the story of Lynda White (Rachael Harris) who is happily married to Abe but unable to have children owing to an abortion in her youth, and Abe not believing in intercourse if it does not lead to procreation - they are a happily married bible-bashing couple from Texas.
Abe suffers a stroke whilst donating sperm at his weekly visit, unbeknown to Lynda. 'How often has he been coming?' 'I'm not sure, I only started in '88'. One night Abe mumbles something and Lynda believes that Abe wants her to find the first child of his sperm, and so after finding out the name she drives to Tampa to find the man she believes is Raymond (Matt O'Leary), Abe's son, the same man we have seen just escaping from prison.
The film is clever, in that after she convinces Raymond to come with her back to Texas the film has fun mimicking the road-trip conventions of the genre; two mismatched people thrown together by reasons out of their control, both need each other more than they realise, elements of farce and screwball comedy ensue.
The best American comedy always work when the characters are dumber than they actually think they are (Dumb and Dumber; Some Like It Hot).
In Natural Selection, though the characters know they have been stupid in their lives at particular moments and it is their slight dumbness that leads to the farcial elements of the film but they always find the ability to make up for their errors.
Another clever element is that Raymond (after he is beaten up by some hicks) becomes a surrogate child for Lynda to look after - feeding him soup, washing him in the bath - and although he resists at times he cannot help to refer to Lynda as an angel.
The script is at times ingenious dropping deliberate keywords in the film which when they are said again, perhaps by a different character, you cannot help to raise a smile at a word like 'potent.
Featuring two standout lead turns by Harris and O'Leary plus an excellent supporting role by as Peter (Jon Gries - Rico from Napoleon Dynamite) as the poor sap in love with Lynda, her sister-in-law, he delivers a nice speech about a car when really he is talking about Lynda.
The ending of the film uses another visual metaphor to bookend along with the birthing sequence at the start of the film, this time Lynda stands at an opening to a beach, on film it looks like Lynda is standing at the doorway to her version of heaven.
Pickering shows great maturity to treat the film and characters with a quiet tenderness allowing the dramatic moments to not slow down the film and avoid it descending into complete farce, instead punctuating it with pathos and laughs; this healthy balance bodes well and marks Pickering as a talent to watch in the future.
Natural Selection is on at the London Film Festival this weekend, and still requires UK and European distribution