Wild chronicles Cheryl Strayed’s 1,100 mile journey along the Pacific Crest Trail in 1995. It’s a story of personal enlightenment and redemption, well-told and acted, and beautifully photographed. The film doesn’t trek over new ground, but its stream-of-consciousness narrative style and an Oscar-worthy turn from Reese Witherspoon raise it above the level of a standard-issue bio-drama.
Witherspoon stars as Strayed, then 26-years-old. She’s suffered from a troubled past, to say the least. After enduring years of her abusive, alcoholic father and the death of her mother at age 45, she descended into a life of drug addiction, promiscuous sex, and a broken marriage. Determined to turn things around and prove to her mother that she could be the daughter she raised, Strayed embarks on the three month journey that takes her from California to Washington.
Coming off the success of last year’s Dallas Buyers Club, director Jean-Marc Vallée takes on another story that embodies the human spirit. This one is more subdued, but nevertheless poignant and meaningful. Nick Hornby, adapting from Strayed’s book, navigates the challenge of keeping a movie about someone essentially walking through the wilderness imminently watchable. Mixing in flashbacks while taking on the daunting hike, Vallée effectively conveys the pain, anger, and frustration that Strayed is trying to rid from her body and mind. Featuring stunning cinematography of the American Northwest by Yves Bélanger, Wild is never less than a feast for the eyes.
It’s the tough, physical performance from Reese Witherspoon that carries the film, however. It’s a testament to her work that she takes a character with a multitude of personal issues, not to mention past questionable decisions that could have rendered her irredeemably unlikable, and makes her likable and easy to root for. A producer of the film, Witherspoon clearly thought highly of Strayed’s story and puts maximum effort into the role. It’s the finest work of her career.
Wild does fall into the usual biographical trappings here and there, but Vallée and his team keep things fresh with a narrative format that works and real feel for the main character. An encounter with a reporter that believes she is a hobo adds some much-needed comic relief in an otherwise difficult and emotional story. Told with positive energy and featuring the performance of Reese Witherspoon’s career, Wild is well worth a look.
Studio: Fox Searchlight Pictures
Length: 115 Minutes
Rating: R for sexual content, nudity, drug use, and language.
Theatrical Release: December 5, 2014
Directed by: Jean-Marc Vallée
Written by: Nick Hornby. Based upon the memoir “Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail” by Cheryl Strayed.
Cast: Reese Witherspoon, Michiel Huisman, Gaby Hoffman, Laura Dern, Thomas Sadoski