When Seth (Zach Gilford) takes his girlfriend, Andie (Jena Malone), to his family cabin and his father, Gil (John Slattery), shows up unannounced with his new girlfriend, Vicky (Gabrielle Union), awkwardness ensues. This is the kind of family discomfort that European filmmakers often milk for social commentary or some kind of poesis, but feels flat and literal in Brian Savelson’s In Our Nature. Here, young Brooklynites are predictably vegan and pot smokers, and fathers are obviously workaholic squares who can’t deal with emotion. The whole thing scans as a botched Alexander Payne knockoff, which may feel especially soulless and airless to those who aren’t fans of Payne’s work.
In Our Nature‘s visual style seems plastered on or allocated, not developed with any sort of authorial singularity. The film fails because, though it means to deal with questions of intimacy, it’s shot using the lifeless aesthetic conventionality of a bad television drama, where every camera move, every piece of dialogue (“Nothing was ever good enough for you”), and every character trait feels like a memo against ambiguity—when intimacy is all about ambiguity. A sliver of depth announces itself at the start, when Savelson uses a long take to convey his characters’ boredom; the couples are in a room and nothing is happening until someone suggests, “Anyone up for a game of…Scrabble?” For a moment, it’s possible to scan the room the characters inhabit and infer things about their relationships through the physical distance they put between themselves and the things they don’t say. Unfortunately, most of the subsequent scenes spell things out for us with the literality of title cards. “Why can’t he be more like his sister?” Gil tells Vicky about Seth, but all she want to know is: “Are we going to make a family or aren’t we?”
Though the film is structured as though there will be serious reparations and unexpected reveals, there’s no real drama here. There’s a brief moment in which the erotic possibilities in the relationship between Gil and Andie is recognized, but it’s all promptly set aside (in line with the normosis of its characters) as pot-triggered nonsense in a hackneyed dreamlike denouement. It could have been interesting if Savelson had seen real drama in the very fact that there’s no drama, the fact that there’s zero emotional connection between father and son, between lovers, that it’s all just one big repression-fueled farce. But the things the film deems dramatic feel petty and inconsequential, like the father’s selling of the family cabin without letting the son know. This becomes all the more evident when Seth complains about Andie getting Gil to smoke pot with her and she tells him, “I don’t understand why you have to be so dramatic,” when he hasn’t shown the littlest bit of drama in his speech nor in his demeanor.