Wild: Movie Review
Cast: Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern
Director: Jean-Marc Vallee
Based on Cheryl Strayed's memoir, adapted by Nick Hornby and directed by Dallas Buyers' Club's Jean-Marc Vallee, Wild has more than just calibre going for it.
Witherspoon (who produces too) stars as Strayed, who decides to hike more than a thousand miles along the Pacific Crest Trail after a series of life moments push her into action.
With Wild, it's best to know less about the background of the story and go with it - it begins with the tiny Witherspoon losing a shoe atop a mountain, and hurling the next shoe off before screaming at the top of her lungs. Is it fear, frustration, relief?
Vallee reveals much of Strayed's past through elliptical flashbacks, slicing and dicing the onion of time and peeling back multi-layers to her story in a way that draws you in and immerses you in Strayed's mental turmoil.
But, it's easily Witherspoon's film by far.
With her small frame eclipsed by a massive tramping pack that lightens as the journey goes on (the allegory and allusion of emotional baggage isn't subtly hammered home but is patently obvious), you clearly wonder how she's going to survive the ordeal as she heads out on her own with only her thoughts and demons for company. (Not even a few animals like Mia Wasikowska managed in Tracks last year).
But the inner resilience of Strayed is brought to life by a subtle Witherspoon and a side of her acting that we've not really seen before - a human vulnerability and complex emotional pull that's really quite affecting as the movie plays out. She's really grabbed something out of the bag to distract the naysayers who believe she's only fit for light and frothy material.
Masterfully weaving flashbacks and some timely moments of the era (a Jerry Garcia memorial setting the scene at one point to remind you of the chronology), Vallee's constructed a journey that is, in many ways, timeless and one that we've seen time and time again. Grief, temptations, familial relationships - all of these fall under the microscope and all have potential to elicit groans from a cynical audience bombarded with these tropes many times before.
Thankfully, the pairing of Vallee and Witherspoon proves to be a powerful concoction that's eminently watchable. Acting solo for the most part (aside from the odd occasional interactions), Witherspoon's already generating Oscar buzz as she straddles Strayed's quest to conquer the elements, her crippling past and her debilitating demons - it's a dazzling, heady watch that captures the essence of the appeal of being alone and yet also explores the uncertainty and doubt that nags at one's spiritual being when so alone.