UK Release Date: 16th January 2015
Runtime: 115 minutes
Director: Jean-Marc Vallée
Writer: Nick Hornby
Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern, Thomas Sadoski, Kevin Rankin
Synopsis: Based on the true story of Cheryl Strayed, who hiked a thousand miles along the Pacific Crest Trail in an effort to get her life back on track following the death of her mother.
The race for Best Actress at this year’s Academy Awards lacked the clear frontrunner we have seen in previous years, and was relatively open right up until Julianne Moore started winning everything for Still Alice. One of the major contenders for the award was Reese Witherspoon for her stellar performance in true-life drama Wild – the latest film from Dallas Buyers Club helmer Jean-Marc Vallée.
Cheryl Strayed (Witherspoon) goes off the rails following the death of her mother Bobbi (Laura Dern). She is cheating on her husband Paul (Thomas Sadoski) and using excessive amounts of heroin, destroying her body. In an effort to cleanse herself, physically and emotionally, she decides to hike over a thousand miles alone along the Pacific Crest Trail.
When I first saw Wild at the London Film Festival, I wasn’t all that impressed by it. However, on a second viewing, with considerably less tired eyes, the film comes to life despite its many flaws. The multi-linear structure enables us to learn more about Cheryl Strayed as the film goes on, illuminating the reasons for her self-imposed struggle.
| "What if yes was the right answer instead of no?"
Reese Witherspoon is very good as Cheryl, particularly in some of the flashback sequences, which show the character at her most vulnerable. However, there’s a problem with the hiking scenes in that Witherspoon never looks like a woman who has been sleeping rough and hiking all day. It’s as if there were a team of people following Strayed around with hot meals and a make-up kit, like a female Bear Grylls. It never feels like the performance takes any risks.
Witherspoon isn’t helped by Jean-Marc Valée, whose unshowy direction fails to make the most of the beautiful landscapes that frame Strayed’s journey. Wild is resolutely focused on its central character but, as a result, it fails to explore her isolation in the context of her surroundings. With a bit of directorial pizazz, this could’ve been a perfect portrayal of a woman laying herself bare.
There is a real oasis, though, in Laura Dern. Fresh from her heart-breaking work in The Fault In Our Stars, Dern tugs at the emotions again with her tragic performance as Strayed’s cancer-stricken mother. The character’s lust for life is provided with several stark counterpoints, first in the abuse she suffers at the hands of her husband and secondly as her disease completely ravages her in her final days. Dern is nothing other than compelling throughout and is more than worthy of her Best Supporting Actress nomination at the Oscars.
| "Honestly? I’m lonelier in my real life than I am out here."
For everything that Wild does right, it just feels like there’s something missing that would really make it fly. It feels every inch a Hollywood production, with any edges softened in order to best appeal to Academy bigwigs. With the safety wheels removed, there would have been a much darker, more interesting movie in this material.
Pop or Poop?
There’s a lot to be positive about in Wild, with a solid Reese Witherspoon performance anchoring the terrific true story of Cheryl Strayed’s inspirational journey along the Pacific Crest Trail.
However, there’s a constant nagging sense of safety that undercuts any peril or confrontation served up by the story.
It’s only when Laura Dern is on screen that Wild really sings, with her character the key to unlocking the potential of what this could have been.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.