Wild *** 1/2
Dir: Jean-Marc Vallee
Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern, Thomas Sadoski, Gaby Hoffman
America’s sweetheart turns serious with her (co)self-produced adaptation of Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, Cheryl Strayed’s best-selling 2012 account of her 1996 1,100-mile walk from California to Washington State. Strayed undertook the journey to exorcise her demons and to rediscover her “real” self after the early death of her mother (played by Laura Dern in the movie) from cancer and her subsequent spiral downwards into sexual promiscuity and drug addiction.
A movie about a single woman on a long trek may sound boring but the movie never flags thanks to Nick Hornby’s (one of my favourite authors – if you haven’t read his novel, How to be good, I recommend you do so immediately) clever script which switches back and forth between past and present and Witherspoon’s determined performance that finds the right balance between desperation and hope and milks the lighter moments appropriately.
Even better is Laura Dern’s touching, luminous turn as an abused wife who refuses to wallow in her misery and is unwavering in her commitment to greeting adversity with a smile. Jean-Marc Vallee’s (Dallas Buyers Club) direction is perfunctory, some of the symbolism a bit too obvious (as in the wild fox which often appears to Strayed during her journey) and the life lesson not quite convincing but the performances of the two women (especially Dern’s) elevate the film.
They have both deservedly picked up Oscar nominations. Patricia Arquette will probably win for her absolutely terrific performance in Boyhood in the Best Supporting Actress category but Dern is no less deserving.
Cut to chase: Never boring but not quite convincing about its life lessons either.