Wild (2014) / Drama-Adventure
MPAA Rated: R for sexual content, nudity, drug use, and language
Running Time: 115 min.
Cast: Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern, Thomas Sadoski, Keene McRae, Michiel Huisman, W. Earl Brown, Gaby Hoffman, Kevin Rankin
Small role: Cheryl Strayed
Director: Jean-Marc Vallee
Screenplay: Nick Hornby (based on the book, "Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail", by Cheryl Strayed)
Review published December 14, 2014
"Before you abuse, criticize and accuse, walk a mile in my shoes." -- Joe South, "Walk a Mile in My Shoes"
"You'd have to walk 1,000 miles in my shoes just to see what it's like to be me." -- Eminem, "Beautiful"
Cheryl Strayed's popular memoir, "Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail", provides the basis for this soul-searching drama about the path to recovery, here literal, that many addicts face in order to get their life on the right track. They say that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Cheryl takes that first step and immediately is daunted by the journey ahead, knowing it's so easy to turn back, but also knowing how much better things could be if she perseveres.
Reese Witherspoon (Mud, This Means War) plays Cheryl, whose seven-year relationship with her husband Paul (Sadoski, John Wick) met an unfortunate end due to every fault of her own. She's tried to seek counseling, but it wasn't something she could open up to, and she knows that if she's going to heal all of the self-inflicted wounds she's created, she's going to have to figure out how to do it on her own.
As a form of purging herself of all of her faults and foibles, Cheryl decides to undertake a perilous journey of self-discovery by following the Pacific Crest Trail for over 1,000 miles by herself, something that will take her hiking peaks and valleys from sun-up to sun-down every day for over three months to achieve. As she walks, she begins to sort out the various demons she has been wrestling with, including living with an abusive alcoholic father, losing her mother (Dern, When the Game Stands Tall) to a fatal illness, as well as the details of her own personal tailspin in her relationships.
Nicely directed with great visual flair by Jean-Marc Vallee (Dallas Buyers Club, C.R.A.Z.Y.), working from a well-honed script from veteran Nick Hornby (An Education, Fever Pitch), Wild is a solid, cathartic work that asks us, perhaps indirectly, to examine our own lives and the things we need to overcome, using Strayed's own example as an inspiration. And does it with visual complexity but narrative simplicity. The filmmakers could have overdone the amount of danger and thrills Cheryl encounters along the way, and there are certainly instances when things get hairy, but they manage to reel things back in before they become too 'wild' to believe. Though the film is relatively plot-less in terms of traditional Hollywood story elements, it does tell its story of personal loss and renewal quite well, and asks us, in an indirect way, to examine our own lives, and the kinds of journeys we would be willing to undergo to make our own transformations.
For all of its lush and ponderous grandeur, this is a sizable table setting for the acting performance by Reese Witherspoon, who also serves as one of the film's producers. Witherspoon shows yet again why she's one of the better actresses of her generation. It's a turn that requires subtle contrast between the girl she was, the woman she became, and the one in a current state of transformation -- something not easy to depict when given just a few short flashback scenes. She manages to say quite a bit of her fears and frustrations with so little dialogue, and while her performance is certainly worth of an Oscar consideration, it's never presented as merely a showcase to attain one.
Although there's really nothing wildly extraordinary about Cheryl's hardships, or even her ability to accept and then rectify them, Wild still excels at telling this personal story, and to make it relevant and inspirational to many others who may view it. In a way, her own approachable and rectifiable flaws make for an even more relatable tale, as Strayed's journey shows what can be done when we put our minds, and our bodies in this case, to setting a goal, preparing ourselves for the long and windy path ahead, and taking that all-important first step to our own thousand-mile journeys.
©2014 Vince Leo