Natural Selection

by deerinthexenonarclights

Though it was perhaps most memorable in its original outing during the Coen Brothers’ Raising Arizona, the faux birth prison break sequence is still a glorious way of opening a movie and this one is no exception; in fact it is perhaps more relevant here than it has ever been elsewhere. It’s certainly not something that I need to see become a trope, but it is something that I truly like to see. As the name suggests this film is about re-production all the way through, not just in its cold open, but unlike the titular Darwinian theory it seems to favor nurture over nature.

When her celibate celebrant husband has a heart attack in a sperm bank depository suite (classy, no?) our protagonist sets off to find a son that he had fathered anonymously through his work at the aforementioned clinic, and of course chaos ensues when she finds out that he is not the ‘special baby’ that she had imagined and wished for all these years (this would be a bad time to make an egg on face joke I imagine). The film follows the two as they traverse Texas: her goal getting the boy back to his fathers hospital bedside, his to escape the police presently grasping for his tail.

If you’ve seen a road trip movie or a buddy comedy before, and you have, then you already know all the beats: their transport breaks down, they can only rent a single room, weather interference, strange locals et. al. Thankfully though the material here is so strongly written that you mostly won’t mind traversing a familiar tale with these two charming characters and so naturally raised that chances are you won’t notice the over similarity until it’s too late, until you’ve already signed on shotgun for the rest of the ride.

As is always the case in this genre of movie the comedy stems from a friction between the two leads and this is an odd a couple as they come: it doesn’t take much imagination to envision the conflicts that can arise between a well meaning, Mid-western woman and the Charlie Hunnam-esque outlaw that she is inadvertently harboring. They bicker, they brawl but in the end they change each other and definitely for the better. Cliche concept yes, but the execution of this growth makes it feel remarkably natural (yep, it’s a buzzword); these characters aren’t simple constructs, rather they are real people and so the relationship works regardless of whether or not it is also derivative.

There is however at least one element of the the character work that stands as somewhat unique to this picture; because the character’s conflicts are not underlined by sexual chemistry or contrasting ideologies as they may be in similar efforts, instead the drama is driven by the notion of family – something that is always present in these pictures, but would normally be relegated to the sentimental sections. The protagonist lives a life built around her tragic lack of children and despite his gruff exterior the man fills this void for her, as it appears that he has lived a life lacking any form of parental guidance; watching the way in which she attempts to mother him despite his protestations is funny and particularly touching, especially as the two become closer over the journey.

Fatherhood is a very familiar filmic theme and in comparison mothers have seemingly gotten the short shrift – though there are plenty of negative examples; mother-in-laws and Freudian obsessions certainly abound – which is ridiculous really; and so while it may sound like a rather simple point for a film at MIFF to make, Natural Selection‘s look at motherhood is rather potent. Its ideas on religion are, however, comparatively lacking; there are a large number of references made to Christianity and the church but for the most part they don’t add up to anything. Which is in its own way a good thing I suppose, that the film is able to express enough to make us laugh but never feels the need to push it any further, never feels the need to craft an agenda.

So though there are no doubt a number of other movies that on the surface do the same things as this one, there is a slight twist to Natural Selection that sets it apart: it has an instinctual edge, it is for lack of a better phrase simply made better and because of this it manages to survive where other recent attempts at re-vitalising the genre have died (See: Due Date), it’s evolution at work.