“What if what made me do all those things everyone thought I shouldn't have done was what also had got me here? What if I was never redeemed?”
Over the past decades Nick Hornby’s novels have been adapted for the big screen successfully (About a Boy, High Fidelity). He also adapted the wonderful screenplay for An Education. His latest screenplay, Wild, is based on Cheryl Strayed’s memoir who hiked over a thousand miles in the Pacific Crest Trail on her own. It is quite a fascinating tale directed by Jean-Marc Vallee (Dallas Buyers Club) and starring Reese Witherspoon as Cheryl. The Canadian born director has proven in the past that he can get great performances from his actors, and he does so once again. Witherspoon seems to be playing a similar character from the one she played in MUD. She has been through some traumatic events which have caused her some self destructive addiction problems, but we don’t know what they are at first because the way that Vallee tells the story is through flashbacks as Cheryl is walking through the trail. It rewards patient viewers because despite not being able to identify with her at the beginning we are given small glimpses of her past that will later on allow us to understand why she is doing this. What is made clear from the very opening scene is that she isn’t doing this simply as an adventure because she has no experience whatsoever. She is walking with way too much weight despite her small size, which also is symbolic because we soon realize that she is carrying a heavy burden herself. Wild’s strength relies on Witherspoon’s performance and those encounters she has along the way, but this is ultimately a road trip movie we’ve seen done many times before in the past (Emilio Estevez directed his father Martin Sheen in The Way a few years ago, and Emile Hirsch starred in Into the Wild both with a very similar premise). Despite the gorgeous landscape, I wasn’t awed by the cinematography which kept its focus on Witherspoon’s inner struggles as she walked the walk.
Unlike what I’ve heard from most audiences, I wasn’t moved by Wild. It tells a powerful story, but somehow I didn’t feel that connection with the heroine of the film. Witherspoon gives a strong performance and we see her without any makeup and full of bruises from the expedition during most of the film. This was very much a physical role for her and she went all in. Laura Dern has also received a lot of acclaim for her supporting role as Cheryl’s mother during the flashback scenes. This mother and daughter relationship is given a lot of importance in Wild and both actresses deliver, although I wouldn’t go as far as considering them amongst my favorite of the year. They’ve both been nominated for their performances. The flashbacks weren’t my favorite part of the film however, because I enjoyed the encounters Cheryl had during the trail. She spends most of the film walking on her own, but there are brief encounters with several other hikers along the way. Those were perhaps the most engaging moments of the film for me. They are simple encounters, but very authentic reminding us the importance of human interaction. There is a scene near the end of the film where she encounter a boy and her grandmother that is very touching. Wild covers too familiar a territory to stand out for me, but I still enjoyed it and definitely would recommend it for Witherspoon’s strong lead performance. I would say that Wild isn’t as much a film about self-discovery as it is about self-recovery becauase Cheryl is trying to recover from destructive addictions while isolating herself from society and taking a thousand mile journey across the Pacific Crest.