Reese Witherspoon gives a tour-de-force performance as Cheryl Strayed, a young woman stripped bare by emotional upheavals and drug addictions. Based on Strayed's own memoir, "Wild": From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail", this is an extraordinary story of love, fear, courage and the ability to turn one's life around.
Cheryl Strayed grew up in Minnesota. She had never been to the West Coast nor seen the Pacific Ocean. But somehow she was constantly drawn to the idea of hiking the more-than-1000 miles of the PCT. She was a daughter, a student, a wife and a heroine addict.
Her life begins spinning out of control when her loving mother, Bobbi (Laura Dern) becomes ill with cancer. Her marriage to Paul (Thomas Sadoski) disintegrates due to her erratic behavior, and finally, after hitting rock bottom, she sets out for her solo experience on the PCT which will transform her life.
I sat watching this film thinking, that for me, there is no motivation in the world which would make me choose to do what Strayed accomplished. This was an arduous and dangerous journey form the Mojave Desert through California, Oregon and into Washington State. She had no previous experience and yet she prevailed when others quit along the way.
Witherspoon's portrayal of Strayed is strong and definite in its depiction of what she endured. She manages to do what few others have --- hold the audience in complete rapture while on-screen alone for a good portion of the film. She's quietly marvelous.
Dern is exquisite as Strayed's devoted mother. She's always a pleasure to watch, and her characterization of Bobbi is pure joy. Sadoski, so good on HBO's "Newsroom", plays the always-supportive Paul flawlessly.
Directed by Jean-Marc Vallée ("Dallas Buyers Club") and adapted screenplay by Nick Hornby ("An Education"), "Wild" is also beautifully filmed by cinematographer Yves Bëlanger. Going from record-setting heat to record-setting snowfalls would just about crush anyone. Cheryl Strayed's enormous feat should be celebrated by us all, and witnessed on film.
Opinion: See It Now!
With a wildly oversized backpack and remarkably ill-prepared for her journey, Cheryl Strayed (Reese Witherspoon) takes off for a 1000-plus mile hike of the Pacific Crest Trail, commonly known as the PCT to people who do this sort of thing. Seeking redemption for a sordid life, and mourning the death of her mother, Bobbi (Laura Dern), Strayed sets out --- alone --- for what will take at least three months to complete.
Based on the true story detailed in Strayed's own memoir, the pre-movie hype suggests she will be truly by herself in this quest. That's not quite accurate, as she runs into other hikers along the way, plus permanent checkpoints where she can refresh, and even receive care packages from friends and family. That's not to minimize the achievement --- there are plenty of challenges, including extreme weather conditions, lack of water, rattlesnakes --- and the most dangerous animal of all, man.
Witherspoon is totally believable in the role. "Wild" resorts to many flashbacks, most of them very brief, as Cheryl continues on her journey. A bit annoying, they nevertheless allow us to get to know Strayed sufficiently to root for her success. Witherspoon is such a likeable performer, she quickly gains our admiration. She is properly frustrated at pitching a tent for the first time, she is indignant at being called a hobo by a motorist she meets (I said she wasn't totally alone), and we feel her pain as the boots she wears are too small.
It's an entertaining picture with enough humor to allay the seriousness without diminishing its importance. "Wild" is adapted by Oscar nominee Nick Hornby ("An Education") and directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who was nominated by the Academy for the film editing of "Dallas Buyers Club", which he also directed..
Vallée knows a thing or two about constructing a solid movie built around a central hero, male or female. His previous credits, beside "Buyers Club", for which Matthew McConaughey was named Best Actor, also include "The Young Victoria", for which Emily Blunt received a Best Actress nomination. Will Witherspoon follow suit?
Opinion: See It Now!