Skip to main content

Film Reviews Wild: Witherspoon leaves a trail of footprints on the heart, red carpet

Reese Witherspoon portrays Cheryl Strayed in Wild, which is a movie in which you can feel the spirit of the material infusing the filmmaker both as an artist and as a human being, is so much more than Oscar-bait.

<137>Anne Marie Fox<137><137><252><137>

3.5 out of 4 stars

Written by
Nick Hornby
Directed by
Jean-Marc Vallée
Starring
Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern and Gaby Hoffman
Classification
18A
Country
USA
Language
English
Year
2014

Easily – and already – dismissed as an Eat Pray Love/Into the Wild spiritual go-girl odyssey, Jean-Marc Vallée's Wild is actually an unashamedly inspirational and suggestively impressionistic interior travelogue, a story of one woman's trek into the mystic with more literal and figurative baggage than any pilgrim can hope to carry.

Unpacking will be the secret to Cheryl Strayed's successful 1,770-kilometre trudge of the Pacific Crest Trail, and that's the job Vallée's insinuatingly engrossing adaptation of Strayed's 2012 memoir sets for itself: the lightening of a burdened woman's present through a purgative confrontation with her past, set to a shredded audio-visual collage of pop music, flashbacks, jolts of physical pain and bolts of a bright beyond. It should be as twee as a Jack Johnson jingle-pop song for sparkling water, but it isn't: Somehow, Wild grows in gravitas as it sheds Cheryl's past.

Would that we all could follow in Cheryl Strayed's footsteps and decide to drop out of the big grind long enough to walk our way to enlightenment (I'd love to, but unpaid bills would dog my every step), and it's to Vallée and screenwriter Nick Hornby's considerable credit that they get to the metaphorical meat of the matter almost as soon as Cheryl hits the PCT. Although weighed down miserably by such real-world matters as a failed marriage, memories of Laura Dern's irrepressibly happy mom figure, a gritty flirtation with heroin-spiked promiscuity and a backpack the size of a Mini Cooper, Cheryl's journey is promptly established as an internal and arguably universal affair.

Story continues below advertisement

Although we may not share Cheryl's particular psychic (or economic, cultural or racial) circumstances, we can all apprehend the roles regret, guilt and unresolved self-doubt can play in blocking the trail ahead. More acutely, we can also get the way memory intrudes on and infiltrates our experience of the present, and it's in this process that Vallée's movie finds its own mountain-goat-sure footing. Her head fluttering with snippets of songs – Simon and Garfunkel, the Andrea True Connection, Leonard Cohen, Portishead – echoes of spoken words and ghostly apparitions of lost loved ones, Cheryl functions as a kind of first-person transmitting probe of her inner life, her consciousness a stream that shifts from torrent to trickle on a thought.

Certainly, there are real enough encounters on this post-feminist, self-helping Yellow Brick Road, and most of them remind us of how dangerous those woods remain for women who walk them alone: There are men who appear dangerous but aren't, men who seem helpful but menacingly so, men who act every bit as badly as they look, and snakes who become caterpillars when caught by flashlight. But there are also moments of uncluttered hope and encouragement, like a freely offered pair of new boots, a young boy who sings a verse of Red River Valley (that old John Ford standard), and a piece of licorice pulled from a trucker's glove compartment.

An inevitable point of comparison to Sean Penn's Into the Wild, another true-story-based account of a dropout odyssey into the American wilderness, Wild is as dreamily internalized as Penn's movie was hermetically externalized, but then the difference between the latter's Chris McCandless and the former's Cheryl Strayed is also the difference between someone who lived to tell the tale and someone who didn't. It takes a survivor to make a metaphor. In Penn's movie, the wilderness swallows up a guy hopelessly ill-equipped to distinguish his fantasy of the wild life from the real thing, a dead end, while in Vallée's, nature functions as the ultimate comeback trail.

Although a no-brainer as a showcase one-woman star vehicle (in a glib way, it's like Gravity in hiking boots), the remarkable thing about Wild is that it's so much more than a Reese Witherspoon Oscar-baiter. (Even more so, that is, than Vallée's Dallas Buyers Club was the amply awarded capper of the McConnaissance.) It's a movie in which you can feel the spirit of the material infusing the filmmaker both as an artist and as a human being, and what results is that thing that occurs when even the simplest of songs sends sparks to the soul.

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Cannabis pro newsletter