Wild – Review
Reese Witherspoon gives another Oscar contending performance in the film entitled ‘Wild” that in my opinion is on par with her own winning Best Actress effort as June Carter Cash in “Walk the Line”. Here we see Witherspoon provide an up close and intimate true story turn of Cheryl Strayed’s best-selling book and its big screen redevelopment of Strayed’s story which offers up all of the emotional backstory details as to what led her to making a rash decision to go on an isolated personal journey of redemption and healing.
At the onset of the film we already see the lead character Cheryl coming into view on top of a slightly rocky tree line vista somewhere on the Pacific Coast Trail. From the grimacing on her face it’s clear she is frustrated by the impact of the amount of pain she has had to endure from the many broken nails, blisters, many bruises, abrasions and cuts she has acquired on this journey. What essentially happens next are a series of flashbacks that fill in the many blanks as to what compels a totally unexperienced twenty something woman to take the solitary daunting challenge of hiking the thousands of miles on the Pacific Coast Trail all alone. In retrospect and more to the point, a woman’s whose recent life history up to that point a compilation of reckless and destructive behaviors ranging from a heavy heroin addiction to many other self-inflicted personal wounds manifested with frequent promiscuous sex with total strangers all the while married to a seemingly decent, loving and loyal husband.
Essentially, these more obvious negative revelations about Cheryl’s life are the easier outward and more visible symptomatic explanations as to why she may be on this impulsive journey. What in fact we do find out later as we peel back the many other layers to her story are the more specific defining events that largely revolve around her life long relationship with her mother played by actress Laura Dern.
Without giving anything away “Wild” is a story of a character who is essentially alone with her inner thoughts, fears and feelings. It is also a cast of supporting characters she connects with along the way who provide us the rounding out of her story as to what compelled her consistently onward without ever quitting, as well as what forged that determined will against odds that were at times funny, maddening and recklessly dangerous. In the end we see a wonderful mix of people, places and things that contributed to a personal effort that both defines her as well as thoroughly heals her.
Witherspoon’s stellar performance is largely always on her face as she at times looked cute and attractive to the specific scenes as the moment required and other times looked equally wrinkled, filthy and haggard in the more stressful and trying scenes as the moments demanded. Also, Witherspoon manages to make sure the viewing audience knows this is not some personal effort story to bond with nature or to feeling better with a greater sense of inner beauty through simply looking at a beautiful view and camping next to a river, though I must admit the cinematography of the film is great. No, this is not a story of going cold turkey off of drugs through nature. This is in fact a story of a woman whose life is off its track completely and in all ways imaginable. Or as Cheryl states in a scene in the film “too often women have to get out of the drivers seats of their own lives for husbands, babies and family”. This story of Cheryl Strayed is about her getting back behind the wheel both literally and metaphorically on that northward direction track of the Pacific Coast Trail with the desire to righting herself and the whole self behind the wheel of life again. To bring coherency to what are the right and wrong things of her life again.
This is far from being a great film when compared to other Oscar nominated or other winning films I have seen in the past. But what I could not stop thinking about was how incredibly satisfying this film was to watch every single moment. Maybe I felt that way because I am and have always been a fan of Reese Witherspoon since seeing her in her first performance from 1991’s “Man in the Moon” as a 14year old and knowing then that she would be a star. Or maybe I found Cheryl Strayed to be that rarely attractive woman who was exciting to watch in spite of the fact she is not perfect or by being needless wrapped by some Director with some tidy pink emotional bow to make her more cinematic sweet and appealing. Or maybe because there are so few good women acting roles in films these days that truly allow women simply to be who they are, warts and all, in that well rounded way. In a less imaginative director’s hands Cheryl’ s story would have been needlessly diminished by trying to fashion her up by having her derive her own well-being through the prism or infusion of some relationship with a man who essentially would become the story’s Pacific Coast Trail sexual surrogate substitute.
No, ultimately what I think is the reason I like this moderate even toned film so, so much is that Cheryl Strayed did something daring. Daring in a way most people would never do much less ever contemplate to do, that in the end allowed her to reach both a physical and emotional destination. A destination totally unencumbered from grief, totally liberated and at peace, so emotionally righted, so seemingly unshackled by life’s venal appetites, obsessions and possessions that at the end of a raining day in the state of Washington she made herself become completely free and for that I am truly envious.
One final note to the folks in Washington, they better ready themselves for the deluge and inundation of people going solo on that trail again. Somehow this film “Wild” made every single cut, bruises, horrible hygiene, wild animals, cold and bad weather and meeting threatening strangers with guns alone in the woods look fun, glamorous and sexy.
3 - 3/4 Stars