“Wild” is a tour de force for Reese Witherspoon. Directed by Jean-Marc Vallée with screenplay by Nick Hornby, based on Cheryl Strayed’s memoir: Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, “Wild” is the story one woman’s fight to exercise her demons…literally.
We are introduced to Cheryl (Reese Witherspoon) mid-way through her 1100-mile hike on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). Battered, bruised, fatigued and possibly at her lowest point emotionally, she gives out one gigantic, loud howling scream after watching one of her shoes fall into the abyss. She then defiantly tosses the other away and our journey with Cheryl has officially begun as we then we go back and forth in time with her.
Loving each other, but no longer in love, Cheryl and her husband, Paul (Thomas Sadoski), have amicably divorced. The fact that Cheryl has given up both her maiden and married names, legally changing her last name to Strayed, pretty much says it all. Cheryl’s life has been on a downward spiral ever since the death of “the love of her life,” her mother, Bobbi (Laura Dern). A chance reading of an article about hiking the PCT sets her on her course, in an effort to get her own life in order.
While the story may sound like a cliché, the way Cheryl’s story is told, assures you that it is anything but. As she hikes she runs into a variety of obstacles—some imagined, others not. The film also comes with a lot of humor. One doesn’t know what to make of Farmer Frank at first and her encounter with the Hobo Times reporter is very funny. But then there are the snakes—reptile and human, some of them friendly, some not so much. Throughout it all, when times are tough on the trail, Cheryl thinks back to her mother and the conversations they had. Bobbi faced many hardships, but somehow managed to survive and in her own way, thrive.
Reese Witherspoon as Cheryl is simply amazing. She’s basically in every scene and you can’t take your eyes off her. Grimy, feisty, slutty, sullen, bewildered and triumphant, she is Cheryl.
“Wild” has a very strong supporting cast used sporadically, but importantly, throughout the film. Just when you think Laura Dern’s Bobbi is a tad too ethereal and saintly, she puts some bite into the character when you least expect it. Thomas Sadoski is very good as the husband trying very hard to understand his wife. Performances by W. Earl Brown as Frank, and Cliff de Young as the one-time hiker with sound advice, make strong impressions.
The film has a terrific score and makes extremely good use of songs by Simon and Garfunkel. Hornby has done a great job in turning a book into a movie and director Vallé helps guide Witherspoon to the performance of a lifetime.