The best thing about “Wild” is how—on top of making me want to actually read the book—human it portrays its characters to the point of making me reflect on how taking a 1200 mile hike across the most apocalyptic of landscapes would also affect me. All of that on top of wringing out the most interesting story about a woman walking for two hours.
It’s like “Lord of the Rings” if some dweeb decided to actually pretend to reenact the trip to Mordor. Except the movie makes it clear no longer than halfway through that this walk, known as the Pacific Crest Trail which goes from the Canadian to the Mexican borders, is not for the faint of heart—especially pimply nerds who rarely leave their computer chair.
As a way of making up for years of personal abuse after losing her mother, Cheryl (Reese Witherspoon), decides to trek the long road as a way of healing her broken soul. Sounds pretty heavy, but a serious trip needs a serious reason.
This could’ve been the recipe for a dull, dry inspirational drama about finding yourself and blah, blah. But sensitive direction from Jean-Marc Vallee, strong writing from Nick Hornsby (who adapted the autobiography), and a raw performance from Witherspoon elevate it above typical soul searching fair.
The film never shies away from Cheryl’s troubled past as we see her delve into drugs and sex in the back of allies with strange men on her downward spiral in flashbacks. As well we get to understand her relationship with her life-weary but always perky mother (Laura Dern) who made clear that no matter the hardships in life you must always hold onto what makes you happy because that’s all that matters.
A life lesson that is universal but one Cheryl didn’t get. Witherspoon gives a very unglamorous and vulnerable performance as she wears her sorrow openly like the giant backpack she lugs around. She feels like she wasn’t able to be the woman her mother expected her to be, having sunk so low that she left her husband for a heroin junkie. This is what motivates her to go on excruciating journey.
And what a journey it is. I’ve never been one to admire the barren desert that is the southwest, but cinematographer Yves Belanger really hits the beauty home. It might be because the idea may have been to just nature exist within the camera. Simple, beautiful skies that eventually lead to clear blue waters and it’s hard to believe these places actually exist. But there are also many dangers she encounters, and they aren’t just the ones nature provides. It’s a hard life for a woman and that is a very strong theme the movie so effortlessly projects.
Even with a riveting character drama underneath an enticing adventure odyssey it won’t be hard for some people to find it deliberate. At 2 hours it’s by no means an epic, but the pacing of flashback, walking, flashback, walking might can easily come off as stagnant. One could say “Wild” is quite tame (insert snickers). I didn’t mind, but my job is to advise you and I owe it to you to warn you of any possible boringness. You’re welcome.
By the end I couldn’t help but entertain the notion of taking the hike myself. It seems impossible to do it and come out the other end the same person. The movie probably isn’t meant to be an advertisement for the trail but, hey, that’s what I got from it. Maybe that is the point, though. You sometimes have to get away from it all to discover the person you wanna be, and what better way than on a 1200 mile hike that takes about 3 months. I mean I don’t have as many problems as she did, but I’m sure I can mess some stuff up pretty quick.