For some time now, I’ve been asking about whether or not any female driven film vehicles would come to the forefront of what I like to believe has been a relatively male-driven year for motion pictures, so when I received word that Wild, starring Academy Award winner Reese Witherspoon, was released in a limited capacity I was hoping that I would finally see a film with a great female presence and character. Truth be told: I wasn’t disappointed in this intrepid story about redemption, endurance and self-discovery that is visually and aesthetically poignant.
Witherspoon portrays Cheryl Strayed, a woman who attempts to trek the 1000 mile Pacific Crest Trail after making a sordid mess of her life. After Cheryl’s mother Bobbi, played by Laura Dern, dies from cancer, Cheryl loses herself in a sea of heroin and sex, destroying her marriage and leaving her adrift in uncertainty.
Rather than going to therapy, or rehab, Cheryl decides to embark on a journey by hiking from the Mexican border to Canada; literally walking a 1000 miles to redeem herself for herself while simultaneously finding herself and facing her demons.
Jean-Marc Vallée once again takes an incredible true-story about an individual with a penchant for self-destruction who journeys to right his/her own ship in the most extraordinary way possible. He did this with Dallas Buyers Club and he does it again with Wild.
Reese Witherspoon is downright excellent. Her portrayal of Cheryl Strayed is heartfelt, sincere and she truly immersed herself into this performance; whether she is trying to strap on her hiking pack that clearly weighs more than she does, or she is in agony because her big-toe nail is on the verge of coming off because she is wearing hiking shoes that are a size too small, she is a captivating presence to behold on screen.
Wild is an intrepid story because it uses Strayed as a means to look forward and back. As she goes further and further along the PCT encountering fellow hikers, hunters, strangers, she recalls her relationships with her mother, her abusive father, her husband, friends, partners, fellow drug users and this method of looking forwards and backwards is coherently and aesthetically refined.
The cinematography is simple yet effective. Yves Bélanger captures not only beautiful landscaping shots of the trail that Strayed walks but also shines a light on what caused Strayed to spiral out of control.
There really isn’t much to say about the supporting cast because they are essentially in and out of the film for at least a few minutes. The only constant outside of Witherspoon is Laura Dern, who happens to give a solid performance as Bobbi, a pleasant and loving single mother who left an indelible mark of Cheryl’s life. There are some recognizable faces in the film, for instance, Cheryl Strayed herself makes a cameo, Kevin Rankin, Michael Huisman, Thomas Sadoski, Gaby Hoffman, Charles Baker, Mo McCrae are all figures who are in one scene and then they whisked out for the rest of the feature.
Wild may not be as extensively shaped as Vallée’s last feature, Dallas Buyers Club, but there are plenty of comparisons to make between the two. For instance, as Dallas Buyers Club was used to catapult its leading actor Matthew McConaughey into the Best Actor race as the Oscars, it shouldn’t surprise audiences to come to the conclusion that Reese Witherspoon will follow the same example as McConaughey.
I’m literally trying to find anything else to say regarding Wild, but I think I practically covered everything. I don’t know what else to say about the film aside from how Witherspoon gives an extraordinary performance, how Jean-Marc Vallée and screenwriter Nick Hornby did justice to Strayed by adapting Strayed’s memoir in such a mesmerizing and courageous way or how visually beautiful it was.
This is a movie that is appropriately titled because when one thinks of something that is wild, it could apply to something that runs unchecked, thriving and out of control and that applies to Cheryl before her hike but as she goes deeper and deeper into the wilderness of the Pacific Coast Trail, she faces the wild tendencies of her past and tames them and in finishing her 1000 mile journey, she conquers the wildness of her own nature and has what she needs to put herself on the right path again.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe this is a perfect picture. Granted this is Strayed’s story but in retrospect I would have liked to know who the people Strayed encountered along her hike were and how they spurred her on to finish her hike and who her family was outside of her mother; Wild sticks to the core of Strayed’s expedition but it doesn’t go deeper into who she was while it simply touches on who she became at the end of the film.
Wild is a film delivers on its promises of a strong female presence. It is a movie to appreciate especially because of Reese Witherspoon, but visually it is quite an eyeful of nature.