So, I got to see an early screening of the new Reese Witherspoon film, Wild, the other night, which was based on the autobiographical book of the same name by Cheryl Strayed.
As I have not read the source material, this review will only express my opinions about the film as it is, and not how closely it cleaves to the book or the realities of Strayed’s life.
First, I have to admit that I wasn’t sure that Witherspoon had the chops to pull off what is essentially a land-locked version of Robert Redford’s All is Lost. The same sense of emotion, loss, and regret that Redford was forced to provide the viewer, alone, without dialogue, is the monumental task that Witherspoon attempts here.
Somewhat surprisingly, she mostly pulls it off. There is a bit of voice-over narration in Wild, as opposed to the utter silence that was All is Lost, but it doesn’t detract from the story, even if the editing job of marrying the events of Cheryl’s march up the Pacific Crest Trail to the flashback segments detailing the tragedies she is walking away from (or toward dealing with, or both) could often make those voice-overs unnecessary.
The film is beautifully shot. From the deserts of Southern California to the rain drenched forests of the northwest, Wild is visually stunning.
Laura Dern’s performance is both poignant and refreshing as Cheryl’s mother, and Thomas Sadoski as Cheryl’s ex-husband, Paul, makes us feel the frustration of love, hate, and betrayal that Cheryl inflicts on him. The other characters in the film are simply there to provide waypoints on Cheryl’s journey up the PCT, and to vindicate/validate her trek of self-discovery/recovery.
And don’t get me started on the “spirit animal” fox that appears three times and serves basically no purpose whatsoever. None. It’s like a tacked on bit to hammer home the idea of a vision quest.
Here comes what I’m sure will be the controversial part of this review. If Wild was simply a movie that was written for the screen, I would have to say that the writer(s) were apparently dedicated to the idea that the absolute worst things that could happen to someone in their lives would all happen to Cheryl. From a promising youth, successful college student, wife, to child of divorce, watching her mother die (and the corneal donation—OH! The humanity!), to the outrageous plot point of the horse, to drug addiction, adultery, divorce, to just walking away from everything to hike the PCT.
Frankly, if all of this actually happened as depicted in the film, then it is indeed a wonder that Cheryl didn’t just slit her fucking wrists and quit.
I’m not even being facetious here. This is a story that harkens back to the works of Thomas Hardy for the sheer audaciousness of fate in the face of mere mortals.
I definitely feel that this movie is worth seeing, if for no other reason than to see the sumptuous visuals of a hike that I had never heard of before (and could probably never accomplish), and to revel in the fact that, at least in the movies, the human spirit can learn and overcome any obstacle. It’s no Best Picture contender, but still a quality piece of filmmaking.