Introduction

Wild

Wild
  • Country of production: USA
  • Year: 2014
  • Certificate: 15
  • Director: Jean-Marc Vallee
  • Running time: 115 minutes
 

Wild is an uplifting rite-of-passage movie based on Cheryl Strayed’s bestselling memoir. Oscar-winner REESE WITHERSPOON stars in a breathtakingly honest portrayal of the author hiking the 1,100-mile Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) on an inspiring journey of self-redemption. This is ‘a ruggedly beautiful and emotionally resonant saga of perseverance and self-discovery,’ said Justin Chang in Variety. Witherspoon has been nominated for a Golden Globe and a Screen Actors Guild award for her performance. Both she and LAURA DERN (Blue Velvet, Wild at Heart, Jurassic Park), who plays Cheryl’s mother, Bobbi, have been nominated for Oscars.

The film is set in 1995, five years after Bobbi’s death from cancer at the age of 45 had sent Cheryl into a downward spiral of drugs and promiscuity that led to the break-up of her marriage. The 26-year-old Cheryl decided to exorcise her demons by walking alone along the gruelling PCT, from the Mojave Desert to the Pacific Northwest coast of America. 

Her odyssey is ‘a purifying tonic’ (Tim Robey, The Daily Telegraph). The intense pain of her troubled past, recalled in a montage of flashbacks, is leavened by music, quiet poetry and scenes of wry humour as she finds her way back from the brink.

Wild is directed with aplomb by JEAN-MARC VALLEE (Dallas Buyers Club). Strayed’s book was adapted for the screen by NICK HORNBY, author of High Fidelity and About A Boy, whosescreenplay of An Education wasOscar-nominated in 2010.

Reese Witherspoon plays Strayed with a gritty realism that is in stark contrast to her celebrated roles in movies such as Election (1999), Legally Blonde (2001), Sweet Home Alabama (2002) and her Academy Award winning performance as June Carter Cash in Walk the Line (2005). Once again playing a woman taking control of her destiny, Witherspoon here goes make-up and affectation-free as she walks, stumbles and crawls along the trail. ‘It’s her best, most natural, most appealing performance in years’ (Richard Lawson, Vanity Fair).

Witherspoon herself took charge of ensuring the book was made into a film, optioning the rights to it prior to publication and co-producing the movie.

The real-life Cheryl Strayed makes a cameo appearance in the passenger seat of a car that gives our protagonist a ride at the start of her journey.

Re-view

Wild

WILD AT HEART

The film astutely presents Cheryl as a self-aware, sexual woman... with Hornby’s script presenting her as a fully fleshed-out individual rather than a series of clichés. It is powerful and movingly memorable, with Witherspoon the striking core of a film that wears its heart impressively on its sleeve.

(Mark Adams, Screen International)

Off the rails

Cheryl Strayed’s turbulent past is revealed through a mosaic-like series of haunting and piercing flashbacks. These ‘aren't histrionically realised: they're the darker pit-stops on this life journey, presented like stations of the cross’ (Tim Robey, The Daily Telegraph).

Through these we learn of Cheryl’s profound love for her mother Bobbi, played here with warmth by the ‘so-real-it-hurts actress Laura Dern… magically effervescent as a '70s mom’ (Time Out). Dern is radiant and there is a palpable and deep-seated bond between the two women. ‘This is one of the most honest, complex portrayals of a mother-daughter relationship that we’ve seen in any recent movie’ (Stephen Farber, The Hollywood Reporter).

Back on track

“I'm going to walk myself back to the woman my mother thought I was,” Cheryl declares at the start of her journey. Redemption is the film’s main theme but the film depicts this without sanctimony or piety. The fact that her encounters with men are fraught with erotic possibility (or trepidation) makes Cheryl complicated and compelling, as David Denby noted in The New Yorker. Presenting her ‘as a fully formed sexual being is one of the film’s most refreshing qualities... Cheryl is neither a passive victim nor a saint’ (Justin Chang, Variety).

The film does not feel laden with a turgid agenda and is candid and movingly irreverent. ‘[Jean-Marc] Vallée’s offering is alternately harrowing and heartbreaking, but laced with saving bursts of humour’ (Stephen Farber, The Hollywood Reporter). One of these comes when Cheryl tries to put her monster backpack on for the first time and ends up stranded on the floor like an upturned beetle.

Pack story

‘The over-stuffed backpack she hoists on to her shoulders is a metaphor not only for the baggage the character is carrying but also for the scale of the actress’s undertaking’ in playing her, wrote AO Scott in The New York Times. Witherspoon displays an extraordinary emotional spectrum as she dominates the screen. It is ‘an intensely committed turn that, in its blend of grit, vulnerability, physical bravery and emotional immediacy, represents easily her most affecting and substantial work in the nine years since Walk the Line’ (Justin Chang, Variety). She plays Strayed with ‘salty, soulful intelligence and spark’ (Richard Lawson, Vanity Fair) and ‘her feisty charm is a perfect fit’ (Mark Adams, Screen International).

In the raw

The exceptional camerawork of Yves Bélanger beautifully captures the wild landscapes, from the deserts and stark snowscapes of California to Oregon’s verdant temperate rainforest. Strayed’s story is translated into ‘an entrancingly lush visual experience, but one which also captures something of the loneliness, the fatigue and the bleary, squinting alienation that travel can inflict’ (Tim Robey, The Daily Telegraph). Writing in The Guardian, Henry Barnes called it a ‘hallucinatory montage’ of the hike and Cheryl’s back story, the flashbacks sparked by the kind of introspection one might expect on the trail.

It calls to mind other survival stories of young protagonists venturing into the wilderness alone, such as Sean Penn’s Into the Wild (2007), Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours (2010) and Tracks (2013) from John Curran. This film, though, is as much about the emotional journey as the physical one and Wild depicts another kind of reality too, one rarely seen in the cinema. It shows the raw, messed-up actuality of a woman on the edge who goes from being lost to finding herself through a personal transformation brought on by the elements, in the wild.

 
Pro-files

Wild

 
Cinemas

Wild

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