Monday, December 01, 2014

“Wild”– Movie Review



This week, The New York Times Film Club held a screening of “Wild”, a drama starring Reese Witherspoon and Laura Dern.


When a young woman suffers various personal losses, she proceeds on an ambitious hike north near the west coast of the continental United States – but when she finally reaches her destination, will she find what she sought?


In June of 1995, Cheryl (Witherspoon) set out on the adventure of her life when she decided to hike the thousand-mile distance of The Pacific Crest Trail from the Mexican border in the southwestern United States to the Canadian border at its northernmost end.  Equal parts courageous, dangerous and foolhardy, she assembles a monster-sized backpack that proves to be just as unwieldy and over-ambitious as the journey itself.  Estimating her travel will take approximately three months, this relatively inexperienced hiker soon realized that she didn’t take into consideration a wide variety of potential obstacles, despite believing she was well-prepared. 

Alone during her long trek, she considers quitting many times, but never succumbs to the overwhelming desire to do so, despite challenging weather, inadequate food supplies and unbearable physical discomfort (her brand new hiking boots prove so tight that she’s losing some of her toenails).  Cheryl’s extensive solitude also provides considerable time for her to reflect on her past, which is what brought her here in the first place; she meditates on the pain, tragedies and various other tribulations she’s survived. 

Cheryl and her brother were raised by their mother Bobbi (Dern), who escaped an abusive alcoholic husband to be a single parent.  Among other things, Bobbi instilled in her daughter an appreciation of life, nature and education.  When things finally appeared to be coming together for Bobbi, she was diagnosed with cancer and died shortly thereafter.  Later marrying Paul (Thomas Sadoski), Cheryl’s marriage ended in divorce some years later after her life began a long downward spiral of drug addiction and extramarital affairs.  As Cheryl gradually nears the completion of her travels, will she find the re-invented life she wanted or is she doomed to continue making the same mistakes?



The motion picture “Wild” is based on the book “Wild:  From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail” by Cheryl Strayed, which serves as a record of the author’s real life undertaking as depicted in the movie.  While the details of this story may make a compelling book, it does not necessarily translate into an equally gripping film.  Being a work of non-fiction, the tale is lacking the dramatic narrative necessary for a movie; as a result, the adaptation falls somewhat flat as there is never really much to make a viewer wonder whether or not Cheryl ever successfully completes her trip (she did write a volume about her escapade, after all). 

Strayed’s story was best told in the form of a book and probably should have remained as such rather than being adapted into a motion picture.  Since much of the main character’s transformational arc occurs internally rather than through external events, it does not lend itself well to the form of a movie; in this way, it may suffer from the same problems as did “Eat, Pray, Love”.  Although “Wild” offers scenic shots of the western portion of this country that are at times breathtaking, they sometimes force us to realize we’re focusing on that instead of a cohesive story with a three-act structure of beginning, middle and end. 

Another worthy film comparison would be “127 Hours”; also a human versus nature story based on true events, it was better suited to a motion picture than “Wild” because its protagonist gets himself into a predicament and must figure out how he can save his own life.  While Cheryl encountered various obstacles along her route, there was nothing in the way of a life-endangering event that she is forced to overcome.  With so much screen time in the movie, it seems Witherspoon decided to cast herself in this role (she also has a screen credit of producer) to boost her career, perhaps with the hope of getting consideration for an acting nomination come awards time. 


Wild (2014) on IMDb

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