Cheryl Strayed (Reese Witherspoon) is a woman in crisis. Her personal life has taken a battering to the point that she never no longer knows what is going on and where she is headed. Her marriage to her husband Paul (Thomas Sadoski) is in tatters after she repeatedly cheated on him, she has been battling against a heroin addiction and the loss of her mother, Bobbi (Laura Dern) has seen her reach rock bottom.
Cheryl knows that she needs to make changes in her life but nobody expects to make the choice that she does. They are very shocked when she announces that she is going to go on a one thousand mile hike across the Pacific Crest Trail in a bid to find herself. Many expect that she will fail on her journey but Cheryl decides that this is one thing that she is not going to mess up or give up on.
Travelogue films have been sneaking into the cinemas at a pretty rapid rate over the last few years. Some, like the very good Secret Life Of Walter Mitty work, but a large number end up like Tracks, a dull affair that saw a woman walk across a desert with a camel for a majority of the film, or completely laughable and self-indulgent like the ridiculous male torture device known as Eat, Pray, Love. Therefore it is an absolute relief that Wild turns out to be an amazing film that is likely to take a few people by surprise with its alternative edge.
Really as a film going audience we shouldn’t have expected anything less. Director, Jean-Marc Vallee announced himself as an edgy director who can find box office suspense with the award-winning Dallas Buyers Club, but with Wild he takes that one step further and in doing so makes this a film that really will inspire those who are finding themselves on the darker side of life.
What better way to show human desperation than to take one of Hollywood’s most beautiful actresses and brutally show her as somebody who is really suffering. Witherspoon knows how to play rough, she did that recently in Mud, but here Vallee takes Witherspoon down even further, delivering scenes of real nastiness with scenes of injecting heroin and promiscuous sex that will be a shock to the system for anybody expecting this to be some Julia Roberts fluff.
Likewise Vallee doesn’t glam up Cheryl’s journey across the trail either. Sure he doesn’t mind showing the odd piece of beautiful scenery but it’s intercut with Cheryl having to make unglamorous toilet spots, watching her eat cold foot, pulling off toenails as her feet suffer with every step and of course the suspense of not knowing when one of the male hikers or hunters is going to see her a single female alone on the trail as a piece of bait that they just can’t pass by. Aided by a beautifully written screenplay by Nick Hornby Vallee has ended up producing a surprisingly good alternative masterpiece.
With screenwriter and director working well in tandem the last piece of the puzzle was the lead actress and Reese Witherspoon certainly doesn’t let the team down. Gone are the days when Witherspoon was known for her ‘soft’ roles in films like Cruel Intentions or Legally Blonde, now Witherspoon seems to excel when she is given the rougher roles and she backs up her recent great performances in Devil’s Knot and Mud with a stunningly good performance here. Witherspoon cops whatever Vallee throws at her and while many actresses may not have wanted to film some of the nudity that Witherspoon is called to deliver, she seems to have little or no problem with it at all. Her well-rounded performance certainly deserves the Oscar nomination that she has received and she actually does have a pretty decent chance to add to the one that she picked up for Walk The Line. While Witherspoon does steal the show she is also joined by Laura Dern for some amazingly touching and sometimes harrowing scenes together as well.
Wild is perhaps one of the biggest surprises of the year. A travelogue with the grittiness of a film like Trainspotting or 21 Grams is pretty much unheard of. With one of the best scripts to have surfaced in a long time, a performance by a lead actress that is full of grit and a director at the helm that isn’t afraid to make a ‘dirty’ blockbuster there is little wonder why Wild has turned out to be one of the best films you will see in 2015. Aside from running a little long it does absolutely nothing wrong.
Director: Jean-Marc Vallee
Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern
Running Time: 115 minutes
Date of Release: 16 January, 2015