Reese Witherspoon Returns to Form in WILD – Movie Review
Reese Witherspoon hasn’t had the best of luck since winning her Best Actress Oscar for 2005’s Walk the Line. Aside from a small role in the McConnaisance gem Mud, she’s appeared in quite a few forgettable films, like This Means War and The Devil’s Knot and a bunch of others I can’t remember. Coupled with her disorderly conduct arrest in 2013, Witherspoon needed something to get her out of this funk. The part of Cheryl Strayed, a woman who turns to heroin and lots of random sex after the death her mother in a film directed by McConnaisance vet Jean-Marc Vallee (Dallas Buyers Club), couldn’t have come at a better time for the actress.
Based on Strayed’s 2012 memoir, Wild recounts her 1,100 mile journey hiking the Pacific Crest Trail alone and without any previous hiking experience in the hopes of becoming the woman her ever-optimistic mother (a magnetic Laura Dern) always hoped she’d become. Recently divorced and an ex heroin addict, Strayed really has nowhere to go but up when she starts out.
The hike becomes a spiritual journey, as the quiet of the trail allows Strayed to remember repressed events that led to her eventual meltdown. These flashbacks play out as dream-like memories, with fantastic editing and fleeting sound, as if they’re actual thoughts in Strayed’s head, words coming straight from the memoir, and not a scene in a film. That’s the beauty of Wild. That and Witherspoon’s performance, her best since Walk the Line.
Witherspoon is all in as Strayed. She’s an exposed nerve, willing to get dirty, lay herself bare and exposed to the world, anything and everything that’s necessary to get at the heart of Strayed’s suffering. It’s a welcome return to the “dramatic” Reese Witherspoon after years of “Rom-Com” Reese Witherspoon.
Thanks to Vallee’s direction and a fantastic adaption by Nick Hornby, who wrote the novel High Fidelity and was nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay in 2010 for An Education, Wild plays out more like a book come to life than a movie. Songs come and go as fast as Strayed thinks about them, and voice over provides her narration as she’s trying to trudge through the snow or wishing she could quit. Wild literally breathes life into the source material, an astounding feat.
The real Strayed could make a good case to be angry about the film version of Wild, which is so good there’s almost no need to go out and buy the book, because the film feels so much like reading it.