In Our Nature
In Our Nature is a small, quiet movie about an estranged father and son. Writer/director Brian Savelson tackles this well-worn topic with graceful visuals, but, unfortunately, scant insights. Given this failing, turning down the volume on his family drama and avoiding full-throated histrionics, though superficially commendable, also ends up being Savelson's biggest mistake, since, by doing so, he forces the audience to listen to what his characters are saying. And it is mind-numbingly obvious that they are not saying much.
"In Our Nature" hits its limp stride when two romantic getaway weekends converge into an unexpected family reunion. After a couple of years of commingling, 20-something Seth (Zach Gilford) finally wants to show his girlfriend Andie (Jena Malone) the luxe woodland retreat where he formed all of his best and worst boyhood memories. A two-and-a-half hour drive from their Brooklyn home, the sprawling property astonishes the decidedly unprivileged Andie, who, seemingly for the first time, realizes that the smelly-looking Seth is smelly-looking by choice. With youthful abandon, the lovebirds begin enjoying the fruits of someone else's labor, until their free-spirited frolicking is interrupted by the surprise appearance of their benefactor, Seth's strait-laced dad Gil (John Slattery), who, to Seth's bubbling consternation, is accompanied by his own youthful paramour, the admirably other-centered Vicky (Gabrielle Union).
Almost as soon as their eyes lock, Seth and Gil want to run in opposite directions, but the good, loving women in their lives keep pulling them back together. It is never clear, however, why the two men have such a visceral aversion to one another. Sure, Gil is an aloof, work-obsessed fusspot, who is perhaps too easily annoyed by his son’s minor breaches of etiquette, like leaving wet towels on the bathroom floor or not cleaning out the coffee pot after using it. And, yes, Gil also commits the horrendous sin of not knowing what differentiates a vegetarian from a vegan, causing Andie to accidentally eat (gasp!) butter. But the degree of Seth’s angst-ridden moping suggests that there is a deeper parental transgression lurking beneath the surface, one that we wait in vain to learn.
Meanwhile, throughout the movie, Andie and Vicky share bits and pieces about their own life problems, which, in severity and sadness, dwarf those of Seth. Savelson should have just gone ahead and focused the movie entirely on these two women, because whereas they are coping with adult difficulties, Seth appears trapped in an endless loop of teenage preoccupations, which should embarrass a grown man pushing thirty. Savelson is either a too-subtle satirist of Generation Y’s parental hang-ups and other self-centered grumblings or, against all reason, he wants us to take Seth’s wounds--whatever they may be--as seriously as Andie’s and Vicky’s clearly defined, and genuinely affecting, ones. Alas, I do not think Savelson is kidding around.
Yet, as the movie unfolds, it becomes increasingly hard to simply accept Seth’s suffering at face value rather than just dismiss him as a navel-gazing man-child. This is especially true after Seth vulgarly questions Vicky about her relationship with Gil, essentially calling her a gold digging whore. Once he levels this unprovoked and ugly accusation, having invested any thought or emotion in Seth’s inchoate issues will seem like a complete waste of caring, except perhaps for those watching "In Our Nature" on a rooftop in Williamsburg.
And although everyone associated with this indie production must have considered Slattery a casting coup, he does not help matters when it comes to feeling sorry for Seth. The trouble with Slattery, who plays the charmingly louche adman Roger Sterling to perfection on "Mad Men," is that Slattery’s natural charisma makes even his worst-behaved characters likeable. This quality, which is a strong asset on "Mad Men," undercuts Slattery’s performance as Gil, who in tone and demeanor never comes across as the unloving tyrant Seth apparently believes him to be. If anything, Slattery’s fairly placid responses to Seth’s various snit fits, suggest that Gil might, in fact, be a pretty decent parent. But, if that is true, then the movie really does not have any reason to exist.
Savelson himself may realize that "In Our Nature" is teetering on the edge of nothingness, which would explain why he shoehorns in a little mixed-and-matched sexual tension between the principals. While Gil and Andie bond over some ganja, a shirtless Seth shows Vicky his old tree house (no, really!). Although these juxtaposed scenes are storytelling dead-ends, Slattery’s flirty exchanges with Malone do reconfirm that Slattery, the quintessential silver fox, is still a master at establishing kind-of-icky sexual chemistry with a much younger co-star. So, to be fair, he did not completely squander his "Mad Men" hiatus.