Wild

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Release: Wednesday, December 3, 2014 (limited)

[Theater]

Written by: Nick Hornby 

Directed by: Jean-Marc Vallée 

In Wild Reese Witherspoon is desperate to escape her home life. Does she succeed?

I could spoil the movie right from the get-go and answer that question but I actually do have a heart, so I won’t. (Plus, I’m fairly sure anyone should be able to guess the outcome anyway.) With a narrative as surprisingly complex as that of Wild, ruining a movie about a woman who is ostensibly getting away from it all for the sake of getting away from it all is kind of hard to do.

The director of last year’s Dallas Buyer’s Club returns with an offering that refuses to be undermined by cliché, of which there could be a decent amount given that the movie does not begin well in that department. The rocky start to her epic journey seems to be pulled from a textbook on how to make hiking/camping look like a pain in the ass. Things like figuring out how to set up a tent, learning how to preserve fuel, trimming down one’s pack load. Of course, this is an adaptation of the real Cheryl Strayed’s written account of her 90+ days in the great outdoors, ‘Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail.’ In that regard the film is accurate, but for experienced backpackers the potential for eye-rolling might seem alarmingly high in the opening sequences.

For all of the premature panic a certain subgroup of the general moviegoing masses might experience, Vallée’s picturesque drama still opens with quite the attention-grabber. It’s Cheryl atop a razor-sharp ridge, overlooking the vast expanse of wilderness that sprawls out before her ad infinitum. She has stopped to nurse a badly bruised and bloodied toe, an ailment she appears to have been dealing with for some time. In a fit of frustration she loses both hiking boots down the mountainside and with the fade-to-black we end up back in civilization in the next scene. What is this girl doing out here? Why is she doing this alone? What’s the end game here?

In the beginning we know two things about Cheryl: 1) she doesn’t seem happy. Presumably she will be hiking to get away from something negative ongoing in her domestic life; and 2) she is quite stubborn. That’s a trait that carries as many positive connotations as it does negative: in the earlygoing we are treated to a humorous scene in which the first-timer is attempting to mount her external frame in her hotel room, a pack that looks like it could easily outweigh its carrier. It doesn’t exactly go as planned but she makes it work. Foreshadowing? Yes, yes that is foreshadowing I smell.

Over the course of an unexpectedly engaging and semi-non-linear two hour timeline — you’d be surprised how effective cutting between segments of the PCT and her life back in Minneapolis can be — these questions, among many others, are addressed but they aren’t answered in the manner in which you might expect. No solution is presented without complication or having to sacrifice something else; no weed is killed completely unless the roots themselves are cut, and this is precisely what Vallée is hoping to convey by flashing back and forth between the two timelines — that of her past and of her present predicament on the trail.

Wild is fundamentally a psychological journey into the heart and soul of this daring, if inexperienced explorer. In fact the inexperience is what helps elevate the stakes considerably. Witherspoon delivers a performance that affects viscerally and consistently. She’s strong-willed, defiant even; stubborn, yes but eventually even that character flaw develops into something more useful — determination. It’s compelling stuff witnessing the transformation of this previously doomed character. (Is doomed too strong a word?)

Around Witherspoon gathers a small cast that delivers big. Laura Dern plays Cheryl’s eternally upbeat mother Bobbi, who has raised her and her brother (there were three siblings, if you want to get technical, but the film decides to pair it down to a more simple family dynamic) on her own for as long as she has been divorced from her abusive ex-husband, whom she still loves dearly. Dern is wonderful in the role. There’s also Gabby Hoffman who puts in quality, albeit limited screen time as a friend of Cheryl’s still living in Minneapolis. And Thomas Sadoski plays Paul, Cheryl’s ex-husband. He’s not in it much but he also makes his moments count, powerfully reporting back to us the state his life has become in the absence of his wife who thought it wise to go hiking on a trail for months at a time on her own.

In short, Wild is a movie that continually surprises with its thoughtful, provocative introspection, spectacular vistas (that part isn’t so much surprising) and keen sense of direction. It’s not a predictable movie, even despite a few sign postings. Witherspoon’s determination to overcome her haunted past is akin to the bold vision Emile Hirsch’s Chris McCandless had of a future without material possession. I urge you to get your ticket and lose yourself in this well-acted drama.

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3-5Recommendation: Despite reservations, Wild is a unique experience. Its only shopworn elements are how it initially presents the challenge of hiking and camping. Of course, even if this was cliched through-and-through, the performances are still enough to make this film soar aloft. The outdoors-oriented should really give this a go. In a way it is an odd blend of mainstream acting talent with the intimacy of exploring nature on a solo backpacking trip but I find the combination to work to great effect. This is now the second extremely well-made film I’ve seen from Jean-Marc Vallée in as many years. I think Dallas Buyers Club is the superior film, but really, not by much.

Rated: R

Running Time: 115 mins.

Quoted: “Finish that sentence. Why do I have to walk a thousand miles. . .?”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

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34 thoughts on “Wild

  1. Pingback: The 2014 DigiBread Awards | digitalshortbread

  2. For the most part, I actually really enjoyed Wild. For me, I had to kind of separate my dislike for the character Cheryl from my admiration for the film. Great review here! I think Reese Witherspoon is exceptionally good in the movie, although there are some moments when I felt like she was trying a little too hard to shed the “good girl” image.

    • Thanks dude, I highly advise seeing ‘Wild’ if a fan of Witherspoon. This could be a career high for her. Me, I’m not such a big fan of hers but definitely not NOT a fan. . .if that makes sense. I just don’t think, as good as she is here, that I’d be in agreement with her walking onto the stage to accept a Best Actress award. A nomination? Sure. I can def see that. And be okay with it too. Though I think I liked Laura Dern more.

  3. I enjoyed this. It feels like Reese is just playing a version of herself. Not a transformative performance but an enjoyable film.

    P.S. Do you still have a Twitter account? What is your handle?

    • I think that’s pretty fair; she’s pretty impressive to take on this pretty complicated woman. But what I liked more is how Vallée unwound the story and we get to know her on much deeper levels at a progressive rate. ‘Wild’ is really good. 🙂

      I used to have a Twitter account but I never kept up with it so I actually got rid of it. Which was silly b/c I could have at least kept it and maybe checked it every once in awhile, but I didn’t have the foresight.

    • Thanks Melissa, ‘Wild’ has some really good performances that I felt needed addressing. 🙂 Laura Dern in particular; she was just awesome as their mother. I was greatly surprised by how much I liked this one. Nice to meet another fan of it, too.

        • Cool! Yeah, Dern was such a lovely presence in this. And the woman she was imitating sounds like such a wonderful person. What an inspiration. Witherspoon did do a great job with her own work as well, I’m fascinated by this Cheryl Strayed.

          • Same here such an interesting story and her mother in the book is so SO heartwarming. I literally almost cried reading some of her scenes, I wish they had show her more. Glad we can agree Tom!

  4. Good review Tom. We haven’t seen Witherspoon tackle a role as dark or as demanding as this, but she works with it so perfectly that it makes the movie better and more of a compelling watch.

    • I was surprised how much I enjoyed Witherspoon here. She can really grate my nerves at times so it was nice to see that not happen this time! 😀 😀

      Thanks Dan.

    • I was certainly cautious beforehand too. 🙂 I wasn’t at first aware how much this kind of role does smell of ‘Oscar bait,’ but you’re totally right man. Fortunately it pays off for her, and for the picture. ‘Wild’ is quite solid. It deserves your eyes for sure 😀 😀

  5. Fine review Tom. I’ve always liked Reese and it sounds like the majority really love her performance here. It almost sounds like an Academy attention grabber. They almost always go for these performances meant to shed ‘good girl’ or ‘pretty girl’ images or edgy roles that require physical transformation. I bet she is a lock for at least an Oscar nomination.

    • While it’s against type for Reese, I’m not sure if it’s gonna garner her the win. A nomination? Sure, I can see that. Her Cheryl is great, but not life-affirmingly amazing. Then again, I might be looking at this picture harshly as I dearly love backpacking and camping and all that quite a bit and it occasionally frustrated me with how much this woman did not know what she was doing out here. It really doesn’t represent the hobby as a safe endeavor, which it is if you’re smart about it. But that’s paying attention too much to peripheral details, at the same time. This movie is a great one. Really had fun with it. 😀 😀

  6. It’s not around by me, but reviews of this sound promising. Glad you liked it, Tom. It seems like a self-imposed boot camp. Whatever it takes to escape her abuse. I love to hike, so I’m sure I’ll be vicariously marching along with Reese eventually.

        • Cheers! Your site’s great. 🙂 Keep up the lovely work as always and indeed, see you in the New Year soon! Can’t believe it’s that time already.

  7. Tom- your writing is AMAZING! I likes this book and felt like the movie was very similar. I keep saying it watched like it read. Definitely a good movie but reading your review is like watching the movie all over again. Nice work!

    • Hahah, thank you very much Ashley!! Thanks for popping in with a comment. Feel free to stop in anytime. 😀 Glad you also had a similar experience with this journey as I did. Liked it a lot. Now, to get to the book. . .

  8. Excellent read again Tom. Another one that ain’t out over here yet (short end of the stick or what?!) but I’ll definitely be seeing it. There’s been quite a bit of Oscar-buzz surrounding Witherspoon, is she that good?

    Adam.

    • What’s up Adam! Great to see ya again. ‘Wild’ shall be worth the wait man, it’s a good little film that hopefully should be picking up more and more traction each week. Witherspoon surprised me with her candor and her amusing portrayal of being at times overwhelmed by the very act of hiking itself. But this movie also surprised me with its plot intricacies and emotional depth.

        • While I think she’s very solid I have her in my top 8 of 10 in the running for Best Actress. She won’t top Rosamund Pike’s Amy, I don’t think. I’m not sure who can/will. 😉

            • Good deal man, that’s high praise for sure. For me, Pike went from decent actress to exceedingly talented, ‘will have everything handed to her from now on’ kind of actress. Lol. She really was brilliant.

                • A) The final days with Brosnan were not the finest hours of James Bond, though I love that actor. Love love love him. Seems like a real decent person.

                  B ) You are not missing much in D.A.D. (cool acronym). It’s a pretty lame techno-crazed re-hash of all the other space-age tech films Fleming has presented us in literature versions.

                • I’m disgracefully behind in regards to Bond. Only seen the Daniel Craig stuff and bits of the other films! D.A.D is an excellent acronym, haha. Great excuse for cinephiles too – “You off to the cinema… again?!”, “Just going to see dad!” 🙂

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