Wild is a pretty good
movie that offers Reese Witherspoon a great leading role. If you’ve read Cheryl
Strayed’s best-selling book, you already know what she experienced and why she
drove herself as she did. If this is all new to you (as it was to me) the character’s
backstory is revealed in stages, as Wild
tells its story in nonlinear fashion. The opening scene shows Witherspoon
hiking in the mountains and stopping to soothe her badly battered feet; she is
exhausted and seems to be at the end of her rope. We then discover that she is
in the midst of a 1,100 mile hike along the Pacific Coast Trail. Through a
series of increasingly revealing flashbacks we come to realize what has led her
to make this ambitious solo trek. Sort of.
Without giving away too much, Strayed (who in real life was
just 22) has hit rock bottom and needs to examine, energize, and possibly redefine
herself. As the details of her life are unveiled, primarily her close
relationship with her mother (beautifully played by Laura Dern), it’s easier to
understand how this young woman’s sense of self-worth has eroded so badly.
What does she hope to accomplish by punishing herself when
she’s never attempted a long-range hike before? Why would she risk the chance
that some of the men she meets along the way might do her harm? I’m still not
sure I fully understand…yet as the character reaches the end of the trail, and
her self-imposed journey of isolation, I felt an emotional swell all the same.
Perhaps there is no logical explanation as to why this odyssey is meaningful or
even necessary, but the accomplishment is undeniably cathartic.
Director Jean-Marc Vallée, working from a screenplay by Nick
Hornby, makes us feel as if we’re experiencing every step of this expedition
along with Cheryl. There is no emotional distance or sense of judgment. Witherspoon,
who optioned the book and produced the film, has seldom been better. She is
able to convey a broad range of feelings, even in scenes with little or no
Oddly, when the film ended, I felt no lingering attachment
to it. I enjoyed Reese Witherspoon’s performance, but my connection to her
character was short-lived—a knee-jerk reaction to a pivotal moment at the
story’s climax. I’d still rate Wild a
good movie, but that lack of resonance is what keeps me from calling it great.