Based on the popular memoir by Cheryl Strayed, Wild is the story of how Strayed dealt with her own emotional collapse. Suffering from the death of her mother, among other issues, Strayed (Reese Witherspoon) had become a red-hot mess, playing around with heroin and destructive serial sex and, in the process, dooming her marriage to a solid guy (Tomas Sadowski from The Newsroom). To cleanse herself from her demons, Strayed embarked on a solitary thousand mile hike along the Pacific Crest Trail.
Hiking the Pacific Coast Trail is a mighty quest – both an ordeal and an achievement. But walking it alone as a woman – that’s a whole different deal. The camera is on Reese Witherspoon in every scene, and she carries the movie with her performance – both as Cheryl implodes in the flashbacks and as she overcomes her fears and inexperience on her hike. It’s been eight years since Witherspoon won the Oscar for Walk the Line. Recently, she’s been reinventing her career with high quality fare like Mud, Devil’s Knot, Wild and the upcoming Inherent Vice. Her work in Wild is top rate.
Laura Dern’s performance may be even better than Witherspoon’s. She plays Strayed’s mom, a woman who has been dealt a shit sandwich every day of her life, but who relentlessly insists on appreciating life’s small pleasures. It’s a compelling and heartbreaking performance.
Now I have done some back country hiking and I know what it’s like to walk for 15 miles in a day. It can be pretty damn monotonous. But not this movie. Writer Nick Hornby (High Fidelity, About a Boy) and director Jean-Marc Vallée do a fine job in presenting the scope of a thousand mile journey by pulling out the most compelling components – the moments that illustrate the impressiveness of the feat and the depths of Strayed’s emotional damage and healing.
It’s pretty fine piece of filmmaking overall, and I’m going to start looking for the work of Jean-Marc Vallée. As he did in Dallas Buyers Club, here he tees up extraordinary performances while avoiding what could have become trite and sentimental audience manipulation. Watching Witherspoon and Dern in Wild is a good use of anyone’s time.
Wild is available on DVD from Netflix and streaming on Amazon Instant Video, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube, Google Play, Xbox Video and Flixter.