Film Review: Wild

Wild film poster showing girl with backpack in the wild, blue sky aboveFrances Winston found this film, based on a true story, to be well-paced, and with the use of flashbacks, a really interesting watch.

Directed by: Jean-Marc Vallée – Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern, Thomas Sadoski, Michiel Huisman, Gaby Hoffmann, Kevin Rankin, W. Earl Brown, Mo McRae

Based on the memoir “Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail” by Cheryl Strayed, this tells the story of her 1,100 mile solo trek across the Pacific Crest Trail, which she undertook following a difficult period in her personal life. Even before the book was published, Reese Witherspoon had acquired the rights, and here she is producer and star.

While the film essentially follows her trek, we get snippets of what motivated her to do it, thanks to flashback sequences. We learn about her relationship with her mother who died of cancer, about her difficult marriage, her inappropriate sexual dalliances, and her descent into shooting heroin. These are done in a free association style rather than a narrative form, but Vallée has crafted them well, so they feel like organic memories rather than something shoehorned in for exposition.

Witherspoon is in almost every frame of this film, and she does give a committed performance. While I’m sure she didn’t walk 1,100 miles, filming in the desert heat while wearing a huge backpack can’t have been easy. This is where she is best, as in the flashback scenes she quite often becomes Reese Witherspoon again, and doesn’t display the grittiness that she does in the wilderness scenes.

Laura Dern gives a compelling performance as her mother Bobbi, and you can see where Cheryl gets a lot of her steeliness from. Other than Witherspoon and Dern, other characters are fleeting here, which helps to add to Cheryl’s sense of isolation, both emotionally and literally.

Vallée has already proven his mettle as a director with the excellent Dallas Buyers Club, and here he manages to craft another compelling fact-based drama. He paces it well and draws great performances from all involved. The cinematography is simply stunning, and the scenery almost becomes another character. The screenplay, which was adapted by Nick Hornby, is also excellent, and gives the cast some great material to work with.

This movie is all the more fascinating because it is a true story. Many people have wished they could disappear for months to recover from trauma, but Cheryl actually did it, and she is to be commended for it. Witherspoon clearly admires this character and that comes through in her performance.

A film about a woman walking across the desert could have been incredibly tedious, but thanks to the combined talents of all involved, this is an engaging and interesting watch.

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